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RIVERS, AND THEIR ASSOCIATIONS.
See the rivers how they run
SOUTHEY has remarked that rivers may be considered
Physically, geographically, and mathematically;
Morally and even religiously. Were we to say all that might be said on these various heads, our readers (if any should remain) would be provided with enough fluviatile reading to last for a yoyage up the Rhine, or the Nile itself ; but although we propose to glance at rivers under these several aspects, we intend to do so within the compass of this article, and to suggest rather than to discuss some considerations presented by rivers. First, then,
PHYSICALLY and GEOGRAPHICALLY. In the earth's structure, rivers have been aptly enough called its veins, just as the mountains and the mighty masses of granite represent its bones, and, like mountain-chains, rivers mark out Nature's kingdoms and provinces, and are the physical dividers and sub-dividers of continents. Some of the most picturesque features of natural scenery are obviously due to the action of rivers; and in many a mountain-gorge and rocky valley we see them still exerting their plastic force in wearing down solid rock, and carrying the débris towards the sea. In mountainous countries some of the grandest scenery of glens and ravines is due to a river having forced its way between the rocky walls that now compress its current; and many a rich and beautiful valley through which a river now calmly flows, seems to have been once either stony wilderness, or ancient lake. Rome would not have crowned her seven hills if the waters of the ancient lake of the Roman plain had not found an outlet in some pre-historic age through the gorge in which the Tiber flows. The flowery vale of Tempè is said to have been inundated before Ossa and Olympus were separated, as Pliny says, "by divine agency," and gave an outlet to the river Peneus ; but we need not go so far as Thessaly for instances where a river flows between approximating precipices, which seem to have been riven asunder by an earthquake, or some giant power.
The geologist sees in rivers “the faithful and continuous chronologers of the earth," the recorders of ages anterior to human records, and even to the existence of man, for, by their endless and uniform flow, they register in visible characters in their channels and valleys successive changes of bygone time. He is, indeed, led to startling conclusions with regard to the lapse of pre-historic ages, and the antiquity of the existing continents, by studying the action of great rivers. For instance (but it is,
perhaps, the grandest example that could be given), the seven hundred thousand tons of water which rush over the precipice at the Falls of Niagara every minute, are estimated to carry away a foot of the cliff yearly, and the cataract having evidently once been at Queenstown, four miles below, it has been concluded-assuming this rate of destruction to have been uniform—that the fall has been twenty thousand years ceding to its present site. Again, we see immense deposits accumulating at the mouths of great rivers, and tracts of new land in course of formation-as, for example, at the mouth of the Rhône--by the débris and shingle carried by the river towards the sea ; and in the extent of those formations we have, in many instances, proof of the lapse of immense periods of time; thus, it has been calculated that the “delta” of the Mississippi, which is fourteen thousand square miles in extent, cannot have been formed in less than sixty thousand years. But this is not the place to pursue geological arguments, or to treat of what rivers have done in modifying the surface of the globe, for an essay might be devoted to that subject alone.
The quantity of water which they are continually pouring into the seas and oceans, is, perhaps, the most astonishing of river phenomena. It is computed that eighty thousand cubic feet of water flow every minute into the tideway of the Thames at Teddington; but the Ganges receives in its course of sixteen hundred and eighty miles (by the windings) eleven tributaries, some of which are as large as the Rhine, and none smaller than the Thames; and the Nile brings down annually a body of water two hundred and fifty times greater than our metropolitan river. A propos of the Nile, it is a peculiar attribute of that wonderful stream, that he has no tributaries. After having advanced eight hundred miles up his course, you naturally expect, as in the Rhine, that when you have tracked him to his mountain-bed, and are approaching to his veiled sources, you will find the vast volume of water shrink, but, on the contrary, the breadth and strength below are found to have been all his own, and throughout that long descent no tributary augments his flood; so that (as Canon Stanley remarks) you have the strange sight of a majestic river flowing like an arm of the sea in the Highlands, as calm and as broad amidst those wild Nubian hills as in the plain of Egypt.* The remarkable fact that the period of its annual rising was the same five thousand years ago as it is at the present day, affords another proof of that uniformity of physical conditions, during a long series of ages, of which science in modern times has furnished so many examples. The hopes of the shepherd and husbandman, which depended on the annual rising of the Nile, were thus connected with the fall of periodical rains or the melting of collected snows in a far-off region of unknown mountains.
Although most large rivers have their origin, like the Nile, in mountainous ranges or tracts of table-land, some of the largest rivers have a hardly perceptible fall. Thus the Volga, the largest stream of Europe, which has a course of two thousand miles, rises in a distriet little more than a thousand feet above the sea, and the still greater Mississippi rises in a tract of country of little higher elevation. Generally, the sources of the English rivers, likewise, are only a few hundred feet higher
* Sinai and Palestine, Introduction, polo
than the mouth. What a striking contrast between a rushing mountaintorrent that descends perhaps two or three thousand feet in two or three miles, and the sullen river of the plains,
where hardly flows The frozen Tanais through a waste of snows! Some idea of the enormous quantity of water that is perpetually flowing into the oceans of the globe is derived from the extent of its chief riverbasins. The Rhône, for example, drains the waters from an area of 7000 square miles of country; the Rhine, which has a length of 600 miles by its windings, drains the waters from a country of twice that area; and the Danube from 55,000 square miles of surface; but the waters from an area of 300,000 square miles fall into the St. Lawrence, and those from 1,000,000 of square miles into the Mississippi, which, by its windings, has a length of 3560 miles. It is estimated that 1,800,000,000 of tons of water fall daily into the Mediterranean, which, besides the great rivers that fall into it, receives more than twenty secondary rivers and innumerable smaller streams. More than a fourth of the river-water of all Europe falls into the Black Sea.
If it was our present object to give a complete physical description of any river, we should have to go somewhat deeply into the science which Southey hailed as “ Potamology." We must consider its basin, comprising the entire tract drained by the chief stream and all its branches; the features of its channel ; its direct length from the source to the sea, and its length with windings (that of the Thames is stated at 240 miles, or double its direct length); the height of its sources, and of different points in its course, above the level of the sea (as regards the Thames, the fall in its navigable distance from Lechlade to London is 258 feet, or 21 inches per mile); the rapidity of its current as a mean quantity, and in different places (the mean velocity of the Thames is 2 miles an hour); its depth under similar conditions; the quantity of water it contains and conveys as estimated from these particulars; the variation in the quantity at different seasons; the extent of river navigation; the proportion of earthy matters the stream brings down, and the extent and place of their deposit; the manner of its termination in the sea, and the influence of tides ascending the channel. Suffice it to say that, whether we dwell on such physical details as regards any one great river, or view rivers collectively, we cannot fail to see how essential they are to the great scheme of circulation for the waters of the earth, to maintaining the purity of the atmosphere and the health of mankind. Everywhere we find rivers ministering to beauty and fertility as they flow, and giving commerce and communication to lands that would be otherwise hardly accessible.
We have alluded to some of the mightier rivers of the globe, but the importance of a river is not, of course, in proportion to the extent of country drained by it, the magnitude of its flood, or the length of its windings. The Tiber, which has been justly called the most illustrious of rivers, is little more than fifty yards in width where it is girded by the double line of buildings through which it flows; and above and below the city, where it has more scope to wander and expand, it does not gene· rally exceed eighty or a hundred. Though it sweeps along with great power and concentrated energy, it is only as a traveller has remarked)
from its historic associations that it can excite enthusiasm or even command admiration. Considered merely in its physical aspect, how different is this comparatively diminutive but classical river from the majestic flood of the Father of Waters of the New World! But what native of the banks of Isis—what Englishman-can forget that the Thames “ diffuses more of
power and activity over the whole earth than all other European rivers conjoined?” The father of British floods becomingly asserts his dignity when he says, amidst the tributary rivers assembled round him by
Though Tiber's streams immortal Rome behold,
And seas but join the regions they divide.
POLITICALLY and COMMERCIALLY. Upon the banks of the Euphrates, which was distinguished emphatically in Asia as THE RIVER, shapeless mounds of ruin mark the earliest seats of human civilisation. Upon the banks of the Nile, which might well be called the “fertilising nurse of Egypt,” are the mightiest and most magnificent monuments of ancient genius and power that the world can show; and to the commercial riches borne by the Arabian merchants upon the spreading waters of the Nile, Thebes and Memphis have been thought to owe their former splendour. Thus the Nile, flowing into the frequented waters of the Mediterranean, is truly said to have raised in one part of Africa im. perishable monuments of early civilisation, and to have been renowned by historians sacred and profane ; while on the Niger, flowing into the lonely and long unknown Atlantic, the natives of its shores remain in their original state of barbarism.* Again, upon the four rivers which flow from the mountain-chain of Lebanon sprang up successively the four ruling powers of that portion of Asia: the northern river—the Orontes—is the river of the Greek kingdom of Antioch and Seleucia, and, rising from the fork of the two ranges of Lebanon and antiLebanon, it forms the channel of life and civilisation in those highlands of Syria which are interposed between the great plains of Assyria and the Mediterranean shores; the western river—the Leontes—is the river of Phænicia, and, rising from the same water-shed between the two ranges, near Baalbec, it falls into the sea close to Tyre; the eastern river-the modern Barada (the Abana or Pharphar of the Old Testament)—is the river of the Syrian kingdom of Damascus ; and the
* Somerville: Physical Geography.
southern river—the Jordan—which rises at the point where Hermon divides into its two parallel ranges, is emphatically “the river of Palestine”—a river which, as is well known, is the artery of the whole country, and which, from the deep depression of its valley and extraordinary physical features, is unique on the surface of the globe. The firstmentioned of these four very remarkable rivers—the Orontes-presented (says Canon Stanley) the chief point of contact between this corner of Asia and the Western World. Near the turping-point of its course rose the Greek city of Antioch, to which, on one side, the river formed a natural moat; by the beauty of this new capital all the cities in Palestine were eclipsed : here the disciples were first called Christians;" and here, on the banks of the Orontes, was (as it were) the halting-place of Christianity before it left its Asiatic home for the banks of the Tiber and the Western World.
In like manner the foundation, no less than the prosperity, of many another city of renown, as well in ancient as in modern times, has been connected with a river; but we will not lengthen our paper by dwelling on this part of the subject. To turn from rivers gleaming with the Eastern light to nearer and more homely streams, the reader need not be reminded that to the falls of its rivers South Lancashire owes the esta. blishment of those mills driven by water-power which have exercised so important an influence in the development of British industry. The tract of country lying between the Ribble and the Mersey is surrounded on the east and north by high ranges of hills, from which numerous streams descend rapidly towards the level country on the west ; along these valleys hundreds of mills were erected, and the water (as a contemporary writer remarks) was made to pay a tribute in power to each as it passed. But here we find ourselves in a region where intensely utilitarian views of rivers would naturally be taken, just as in the view of Brindley, the engineer, rivers were only made by the Creator in order to feed navigable canals, or, perhaps, in the view of an epicure, have their most interesting associations in the fish they furnish to cookery. By Southey nobler uses are ascribed to rivers. « They welcome,” he says, “the bold discoverer into the heart of the country to whose coast the sea has borne his adventurous barque; the richest freights have floated on their bosoms ; and while by their mechanical power they move the wheels of cotton-mills, and afford transit for the goods of the merchant, they furnish the most profound philosophy with illustration and example.” And so, reminding the reader that it was upon rivers that the gigantic power of steam now governing the ocean first began its sway, we pass from the political avd commercial aspects of our subject to consider rivers
HISTORICALLY. Great natural objects, such as rivers and mountains, retain their original or ancient names longer than anything around them; they survive buman revolutions; and while they enjoy, as it were, a perpetual youth, the names they received from the first settlers on their shores have very commonly passed untranslated into the speech of the modern inhabitants. No natural features more permanently fix, and, as some writer has said, endear, the classical associations of a land than its
* Stanley: Sinai and Palestine (5th edition), p. 110.