George P. (George Perkins) Marsh.

Man and Nature; Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action online

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"Not all the winds, and storms, and earthquakes, and seas, and seasons
of the world, have done so much to revolutionize the earth as MAN, the
power of an endless life, has done since the day he came forth upon it,
and received dominion over it." - H. BUSHNELL, _Sermon on the Power of an
Endless Life_.




ENTERED, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1864, by


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the
Southern District of New York.



46, 48, & 50 Greene St., New York.


The object of the present volume is: to indicate the character and,
approximately, the extent of the changes produced by human action in the
physical conditions of the globe we inhabit; to point out the dangers of
imprudence and the necessity of caution in all operations which, on a
large scale, interfere with the spontaneous arrangements of the organic
or the inorganic world; to suggest the possibility and the importance of
the restoration of disturbed harmonies and the material improvement of
waste and exhausted regions; and, incidentally, to illustrate the
doctrine, that man is, in both kind and degree, a power of a higher
order than any of the other forms of animated life, which, like him, are
nourished at the table of bounteous nature.

In the rudest stages of life, man depends upon spontaneous animal and
vegetable growth for food and clothing, and his consumption of such
products consequently diminishes the numerical abundance of the species
which serve his uses. At more advanced periods, he protects and
propagates certain esculent vegetables and certain fowls and
quadrupeds, and, at the same time, wars upon rival organisms which prey
upon these objects of his care or obstruct the increase of their
numbers. Hence the action of man upon the organic world tends to subvert
the original balance of its species, and while it reduces the numbers of
some of them, or even extirpates them altogether, it multiplies other
forms of animal and vegetable life.

The extension of agricultural and pastoral industry involves an
enlargement of the sphere of man's domain, by encroachment upon the
forests which once covered the greater part of the earth's surface
otherwise adapted to his occupation. The felling of the woods has been
attended with momentous consequences to the drainage of the soil, to the
external configuration of its surface, and probably, also, to local
climate; and the importance of human life as a transforming power is,
perhaps, more clearly demonstrable in the influence man has thus exerted
upon superficial geography than in any other result of his material

Lands won from the woods must be both drained and irrigated; river banks
and maritime coasts must be secured by means of artificial bulwarks
against inundation by inland and by ocean floods; and the needs of
commerce require the improvement of natural, and the construction of
artificial channels of navigation. Thus man is compelled to extend over
the unstable waters the empire he had already founded upon the solid

The upheaval of the bed of seas and the movements of water and of wind
expose vast deposits of sand, which occupy space required for the
convenience of man, and often, by the drifting of their particles,
overwhelm the fields of human industry with invasions as disastrous as
the incursions of the ocean. On the other hand, on many coasts, sand
hills both protect the shores from erosion by the waves and currents,
and shelter valuable grounds from blasting sea winds. Man, therefore,
must sometimes resist, sometimes promote, the formation and growth of
dunes, and subject the barren and flying sands to the same obedience to
his will to which he has reduced other forms of terrestrial surface.

Besides these old and comparatively familiar methods of material
improvement, modern ambition aspires to yet grander achievements in the
conquest of physical nature, and projects are meditated which quite
eclipse the boldest enterprises hitherto undertaken for the modification
of geographical surface.

The natural character of the various fields where human industry has
effected revolutions so important, and where the multiplying population
and the impoverished resources of the globe demand new triumphs of mind
over matter, suggests a corresponding division of the general subject,
and I have conformed the distribution of the several topics to the
chronological succession in which man must be supposed to have extended
his sway over the different provinces of his material kingdom. I have,
then, in the Introductory chapter, stated, in a comprehensive way, the
general effects and the prospective consequences of human action upon
the earth's surface and the life which peoples it. This chapter is
followed by four others in which I have traced the history of man's
industry as exerted upon Animal and Vegetable Life, upon the Woods,
upon the Waters, and upon the Sands; and to these I have added a
concluding chapter upon Probable and Possible Geographical Revolutions
yet to be effected by the art of man.

I have only to add what, indeed, sufficiently appears upon every page of
the volume, that I address myself not to professed physicists, but to
the general intelligence of educated, observing, and thinking men; and
that my purpose is rather to make practical suggestions than to indulge
in theoretical speculations properly suited to a different class from
that to which those for whom I write belong.


_December 1, 1863._



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