| Madam How and Lady Why|
|by Charles Kingsley|
|Introduces children to geology through conversations about earthquakes, volcanoes, coral reefs, and so on. Encourages children to wonder about the distinctive features of the landscape around them and how they came to be the way they are. Ages 10-14 |
OME: I suppose you consider yourself quite a good sailor by now?
Oh, yes. I have never been ill yet, though it has been quite
rough again and again.
What you call rough, little man. But as you are grown such a very
good sailor, and also as the sea is all but smooth, I think we
will have a sail in the yacht to-day, and that a tolerably long
Oh, how delightful! but I thought we were going home; and the
things are all packed up.
And why should we not go homewards in the yacht, things and all?
What! all the way to England?
No, not so far as that; but these kind people, when they came into
the harbour last night, offered to take us up the coast to a town,
where we will sleep, and start comfortably home to-morrow morning.
So now you will have a chance of seeing something of
 the great sea
outside, and of seeing, perhaps, the whale himself.
I hope we shall see the whale. The men say he has been outside
the harbour every day this week after the fish.
Very good. Now do you keep quiet, and out of the way, while we
are getting ready to go on board; and take a last look at this
pretty place, and all its dear kind people.
And the dear kind dogs too, and the cat and the kittens.
Now, come along, and bundle into the boat, if you have done
bidding every one good-bye; and take care you don't slip down in
the ice-groovings, as you did the other day. There, we are off at
Oh, look at them all on the rock watching us and waving their
handkerchiefs; and Harper and Paddy too, and little Jimsy and Isy,
with their fat bare feet, and their arms round the dogs' necks. I
am so sorry to leave them all.
Not sorry to go home?
No, but— They have been so kind; and the dogs were so kind. I am
sure they knew we were going, and were sorry too.
Perhaps they were. They knew we were going away, at all events.
They know what bringing out boxes and luggage means well enough.
 Sam knew, I am sure; but he did not care for us. He was only
uneasy because he thought Harper was going, and he should lose his
shooting; and as soon as he saw Harper was not getting into the
boat, he sat down and scratched himself, quite happy. But do dogs
Of course they do, only they do not think in words, as we do.
But how can they think without words?
That is very difficult for you and me to imagine, because we
always think in words. They must think in pictures, I suppose, by
remembering things which have happened to them. You and I do that
in our dreams. I suspect that savages, who have very few words to
express their thoughts with, think in pictures, like their own
dogs. But that is a long story. We must see about getting on
board now, and under way.
Well, and what have you been doing?
Oh, I looked all over the yacht, at the ropes and curious things;
and then I looked at the mountains, till I was tired; and then I
heard you and some gentleman talking about the land sinking, and I
listened. There was no harm in that?
None at all. But what did you hear him say?
That the land must be sinking here, because
 there were peat-bogs
everywhere below high-water mark. Is that true?
Quite true; and that peat would never have been formed where the
salt water could get at it, as it does now every tide.
But what was it he said about that cliff over there?
He said that cliff on our right, a hundred feet high, was plainly
once joined on to that low island on our left.
What! that long bank of stones, with a house on it?
That is no house. That is a square lump of mud, the last
remaining bit of earth which was once the moraine of a glacier.
Every year it crumbles into the sea more and more; and in a few
years it will be all gone, and nothing left but the great round
boulder-stones which the ice brought down from the glaciers behind
But how does he know that it was once joined to the cliff?
Because that cliff, and the down behind it, where the cows are
fed, is made up, like the island, of nothing but loose earth and
stones; and that is why it is bright and green beside the grey
rocks and brown heather of the moors at its foot. He knows that
it must be an old glacier moraine; and he has reason to think that
moraine once stretched right across the bay to the low island, and
perhaps on to
 the other shore, and was eaten out by the sea as the
land sank down.
But how does he know that the land sank?
Of that, he says, he is quite certain; and this is what he says.—Suppose there was a glacier here, where we are sailing now: it
would end in an ice cliff, such as you have seen a picture of in
Captain Cook's Voyages, of which you are so fond. You recollect
the pictures of Christmas Sound and Possession Bay?
Oh yes, and pictures of Greenland and Spitzbergen too, with
glaciers in the sea.
Then icebergs would break off from that cliff, and carry all the
dirt and stones out to sea, perhaps hundreds of miles away,
instead of letting it drop here in a heap; and what did fall in a
heap here the sea would wash down at once, and smooth it over the
sea-bottom, and never let it pile up in a huge bank like that. Do
I think I do.
Therefore, he says, that great moraine must have been built upon
dry land, in the open air; and must have sunk since into the sea,
which is gnawing at it day and night, and will some day eat it all
up, as it would eat up all the dry land in the world, if Madam How
was not continually lifting up fresh land, to make up for what the
sea has carried off.
Oh, look there! some one has caught a fish, and
 is hauling it up.
What a strange creature! It is not a mackerel, nor a gurnet, nor
How do you know that?
Why, it is running along the top of the water like a snake; and
they never do that. Here it comes. It has got a long beak, like
a snipe. Oh, let me see.
See if you like: but don't get in the way. Remember you are but
a little boy.
What is it? a snake with a bird's head?
No: a snake has no fins; and look at its beak: it is full of
little teeth, which no bird has. But a very curious fellow he is,
nevertheless: and his name is Gar-fish. Some call him Green-bone, because his bones are green.
But what kind of fish is he? He is like nothing I ever saw.
I believe he is nearest to a pike, though his backbone is
different from a pike, and from all other known fishes.
But is he not very rare?
Oh no: he comes to Devonshire and Cornwall with the mackerel, as
he has come here; and in calm weather he will swim on the top of
the water, and play about, and catch flies, and stand bolt upright
with his long nose in the air; and when the fisher-boys throw him
a stick, he will jump over it again and again, and play with it in
the most ridiculous way.
 And what will they do with him?
Cut him up for bait, I suppose, for he is not very good to eat.
Certainly, he does smell very nasty.
Have you only just found out that? Sometimes when I have caught
one, he has made the boat smell so that I was glad to throw him
overboard, and so he saved his life by his nastiness. But they
will catch plenty of mackerel now; for where he is they are; and
where they are, perhaps the whale will be; for we are now well
outside the harbour, and running across the open bay; and lucky
for you that there are no rollers coming in from the Atlantic, and
spouting up those cliffs in columns of white foam.
Ah! Who was that coughed just behind the ship?
Who, indeed? look round and see.
There is nobody. There could not be in the sea.
Look—there, a quarter of a mile away.
Oh! What is that turning over in the water, like a great black
wheel? And a great tooth on it, and—oh! it is gone!
Never mind. It will soon show itself again.
But what was it?
The whale: one of them, at least; for the men say there are two
different ones about the bay. That
 black wheel was part of his
back, as he turned down; and the tooth on it was his back-fin.
But the noise, like a giant's cough?
Rather like the blast of a locomotive just starting. That was his
What? as loud as that?
Why not? He is a very big fellow, and has big lungs.
How big is he?
I cannot say: perhaps thirty or forty feet long. We shall be
able to see better soon. He will come up again, and very likely
nearer us, where those birds are.
I don't want him to come any nearer.
You really need not be afraid. He is quite harmless.
But he might run against the yacht.
He might: and so might a hundred things happen which never do.
But I never heard of one of these whales running against a vessel;
so I suppose he has sense enough to know that the yacht is no
concern of his, and to keep out of its way.
But why does he make that tremendous noise only once, and then go
under water again?
You must remember that he is not a fish. A fish takes the water
in through his mouth continually, and it runs over his gills, and
out behind through his gill-covers. So the gills suck-up the air
out of the water,
 and send it into the fish's blood, just as they
do in the newt-larva.
Yes, I know.
But the whale breathes with lungs like you and me; and when he
goes under water he has to hold his breath, as you and I have.
What a long time he can hold it.
Yes. He is a wonderful diver. Some whales, they say, will keep
under for an hour. But while he is under, mind, the air in his
lungs is getting foul, and full of carbonic acid, just as it would
in your lungs, if you held your breath. So he is forced to come
up at last: and then out of his blowers, which are on the top of
his head, he blasts out all the foul breath, and with it the water
which has got into his mouth, in a cloud of spray. Then he sucks
in fresh air, as much as he wants, and dives again, as you saw him
do just now.
And what does he do under water?
Look—and you will see. Look at those birds. We will sail up to
them; for Mr. Whale will probably rise among them soon.
Oh, what a screaming and what a fighting! How many sorts there
are! What are those beautiful little ones, like great white
swallows, with crested heads and forked tails, who hover, and then
dip down and pick up something?
Terns—sea-swallows. And there are gulls in
 hundreds, you see,
large and small, grey-backed and black-backed; and over them all
two or three great gannets swooping round and round.
Oh! one has fallen into the sea!
Yes, with a splash just like a cannon ball. And here he comes up
again, with a fish in his beak. If he had fallen on your head,
with that beak of his, he would have split it open. I have heard
of men catching gannets by tying a fish on a board, and letting it
float; and when the gannet strikes at it he drives his bill into
the board, and cannot get it out.
But is not that cruel?
I think so. Gannets are of no use, for eating, or anything else.
What a noise! It is quite deafening. And what are those black
birds about, who croak like crows, or parrots?
Look at them. Some have broad bills, with a white stripe on it,
and cry something like the moor-hens at home. Those are razor-bills.
And what are those who say "marrock," something like a parrot?
The ones with thin bills? They are guillemots, "murres" as we call
them in Devon: but in some places they call them "marrocks," from
what they say.
And each has a little baby bird swimming behind
 it. Oh! there:
the mother has cocked up her tail and dived, and the little one is
swimming about looking for her! How it cries! It is afraid of
And there she comes up again, and cries "marrock" to call it.
Look at it swimming up to her, and cuddling to her, quite happy.
Quite happy. And do you not think that any one who took a gun and
shot either that mother or that child would be both cowardly and
But they might eat them.
These sea-birds are not good to eat. They taste too strong of
fish-oil. They are of no use at all, except that the gulls' and
terns' feathers are put into girls' hats.
Well, they might find plenty of other things to put in their hats.
So I think. Yes: it would be very cruel, very cruel indeed, to
do what some do, shoot at these poor things, and leave them
floating about wounded till they die. But I suppose, if one gave
them one's mind about such doings, and threatened to put the new
Sea Fowl Act in force against them, and fine them, and show them
up in the newspapers, they would say they meant no harm, and had
never thought about its being cruel.
Then they ought to think.
 They ought; and so ought you. Half the cruelty in the world, like
half the misery, comes simply from people's not thinking; and boys
are often very cruel from mere thoughtlessness. So when you are
tempted to rob birds' nests, or to set the dogs on a moorhen, or
pelt wrens in the hedge, think; and say—How should I like that to
be done to me?
I know: but what are all the birds doing?
Look at the water, how it sparkles. It is alive with tiny fish,
"fry," "brett" as we call them in the West, which the mackerel are
driving up to the top.
Poor little things! How hard on them! The big fish at them from
below, and the birds at them from above. And what is that?
Thousands of fish leaping out of the water, scrambling over each
other's backs. What a curious soft rushing roaring noise they
Aha! The eaters are going to be eaten in turn. Those are the
mackerel themselves; and I suspect they see Mr. Whale, and are
scrambling out of the way as fast as they can, lest he should
swallow them down, a dozen at a time. Look out sharp for him now.
I hope he will not come very near.
No. The fish are going from us and past us. If he comes up, he
will come up astern of us, so look back. There he is!
 That? I thought it was a boat.
SEA-BIRDS AND FISHES
Yes. He does look very like a boat upside down. But that is only
his head and shoulders. He will blow next.
Oh! What a jet of spray, like the Geysers! And the sun made a
rainbow on the top of it. He is quite still now.
Yes; he is taking a long breath or two. You need not hold my hand
so tight. His head is from us; and when he goes down he will go
Oh, he is turning head over heels! There is his back fin again.
And——Ah! was not that a slap! How the water boiled and foamed;
and what a tail he had! And how the mackerel flew out of the
Yes. You are a lucky boy to have seen that. I have not seen one
of those gentlemen show his "flukes," as they call them, since I
was a boy on the Cornish coast.
Where is he gone?
Hunting mackerel, away out at sea. But did you notice something
odd about his tail, as you call it—though it is really none?
It looked as if it was set on flat, and not upright, like a
fish's. But why is it not a tail?
Just because it is set on flat, not upright: and learned men will
tell you that those two flukes are
 the "rudiments"—that is,
either the beginning, or more likely the last remains—of two hind
feet. But that belongs to the second volume of Madam How's Book
of Kind; and you have not yet learned any of the first volume, you
know, except about a few butterflies. Look here! Here are more
whales coming. Don't be frightened. They are only little ones,
mackerel-hunting, like the big one.
What pretty smooth things, turning head over heels, and saying,
They don't really turn clean over; and that "Hush" is their way of
Are they the young ones of that great monster?
No; they are porpoises. That big one is, I believe, a bottle-nose. But if you want to know about the kinds of whales, you must
ask Dr. Flower at the Royal College of Surgeons, and not me: and
he will tell you wonderful things about them.—How some of them
have mouths full of strong teeth, like these porpoises; and
others, like the great sperm whale in the South Sea, have huge
teeth in their lower jaws, and in the upper only holes into which
those teeth fit; others like the bottle-nose, only two teeth or so
in the lower jaw; and others, like the narwhal, two straight tusks
in the upper jaw, only one of which grows, and is what you call a
Oh yes. I know of a walking-stick made of one.
And strangest of all, how the right whales have a
 few little teeth
when they are born, which never come through the gums; but,
instead, they grow all along their gums, an enormous curtain of
clotted hair, which serves as a net to keep in the tiny sea-animals on which they feed, and let the water strain out.
You mean whalebone? Is whalebone hair?
So it seems. And so is a rhinoceros's horn. A rhinoceros used to
be hairy all over in old times: but now he carries all his hair
on the end of his nose, except a few bristles on his tail. And
the right whale, not to be done in oddity, carries all his on his
But have no whales any hair?
No real whales: but the manati, which is very nearly a whale, has
long bristly hair left. Don't you remember M.'s letter about the
one he saw at Rio Janeiro?
This is all very funny: but what is the use of knowing so much
about things' teeth and hair?
What is the use of learning Latin and Greek, and a dozen things
more which you have to learn? You don't know yet: but wiser
people than you tell you that they will be of use some day. And I
can tell you, that if you would only study that gar-fish long
enough, and compare him with another fish something like him, who
has a long beak to his lower jaw, and none to his upper—and how
he eats, I cannot guess,—and both of them again with certain
 fishes like them, which M. Agassiz has found lately, not in the
sea, but in the river Amazon; and then think carefully enough over
their bones and teeth, and their history from the time they are
hatched—why, you would find out, I believe, a story about the
river Amazon itself, more wonderful than all the fairy tales you
Now there is luncheon ready. Come down below, and don't tumble
down the companion-stairs; and by the time you have eaten your
dinner we shall be very near the shore.
So? Here is my little man on deck, after a good night's rest.
And he has not been the least sick, I hear.
Not a bit: but the cabin was so stuffy and hot, I asked leave to
come on deck. What a huge steamer! But I do not like it as well
as the yacht. It smells of oil and steam, and—
And pigs and bullocks too, I am sorry to say. Don't go forward
above them, but stay here with me, and look round.
Where are we now? What are those high hills, far away to the
left, above the lowlands and woods?
Those are the shore of the Old World—the Welsh mountains.
And in front of us I can see nothing but flat land. Where is
 That is the mouth of the Severn and Avon; where we shall be in
half an hour more.
And there, on the right, over the low hills, I can see higher
ones, blue and hazy.
Those are an island of the Old World, called now the Mendip Hills;
and we are steaming along the great strait between the Mendips and
the Welsh mountains, which once was coral reef, and is now the
Severn sea; and by the time you have eaten your breakfast we shall
steam in through a crack in that coral-reef; and you will see what
you missed seeing when you went to Ireland, because you went on
board at night.
Oh! Where have we got to now? Where is the wide Severn Sea?
Two or three miles beyond us; and here we are in narrow little
Narrow indeed. I wonder that the steamer does not run against
those rocks. But how beautiful they are, and how the trees hang
down over the water, and are all reflected in it!
Yes. The gorge of the Avon is always lovely. I saw it first when
I was a little boy like you; and I have seen it many a time since,
in sunshine and in storm, and thought it more lovely every time.
Look! there is something curious.
What! Those great rusty rings fixed into the rock?
Yes. Those may be as old, for aught I know, as Queen Elizabeth's
or James's reign.
But why were they put there?
For ships to hold on by, if they lost the tide.
What do you mean?
It is high tide now. That is why the water is almost up to the
branches of the trees. But when the tide turns, it will all rush
out in a torrent which would sweep ships out to sea again, if they
had not steam, as we have, to help them up against the stream. So
sailing ships, in old times, fastened themselves to those rings,
and rode against the stream till the tide turned, and carried them
up to Bristol.
But what is the tide? And why does it go up and down? And why
does it alter with the moon, as I heard you all saying so often in
That is a long story, which I must tell you something about some
other time. Now I want you to look at something else: and that
is, the rocks themselves, in which the rings are. They are very
curious in my eyes, and very valuable; for they taught me a lesson
in geology when I was quite a boy: and I want them to teach it to
What is there curious in them?
This. You will soon see for yourself, even from the steamer's
deck, that they are not the same rock as the high limestone hills
above. They are made up of red sand and pebbles; and they are a
 younger, indeed some say two worlds younger, than the
limestone hills above, and lie upon the top of the limestone. Now
you may see what I meant when I said that the newer rocks, though
they lie on the top of the older, were often lower down than they
But how do you know that they lie on the limestone?
Look into that corner of the river, as we turn round, and you will
see with your own eyes. There are the sandstones, lying flat on
the turned-up edges of another rock.
Yes; I see. The layers of it are almost upright.
Then that upright rock underneath is part of the great limestone
hill above. So the hill must have been raised out of the sea,
ages ago, and eaten back by the waves; and then the sand and
pebbles made a beach at its foot, and hardened into stone; and
there it is. And when you get through the limestone hills to
Bristol, you will see more of these same red sandstone rocks,
spread about at the foot of the limestone-hills, on the other
But why is the sandstone two worlds newer than the limestone?
Because between that sandstone and that limestone come hundreds of
feet of rock, which carry in them all the coal in England. Don't
you remember that I told you that once before?
Oh yes. But I see no coal between them there.
 No. But there is plenty of coal between them over in Wales; and
plenty too between them on the other side of Bristol. What you
are looking at there is just the lip of a great coal-box, where
the bottom and the lid join. The bottom is the mountain
limestone; and the lid is the new red sandstone, or Trias, as they
call it now: but the coal you cannot see. It is stowed inside
the box, miles away from here. But now, look at the cliffs and
the downs, which (they tell me) are just like the downs in the
Holy Land; and the woods and villas, high over your head.
And what is that in the air? A bridge?
Yes—that is the famous Suspension Bridge—and a beautiful work of
art it is. Ay, stare at it, and wonder at it, little man, of
But is it not wonderful?
Yes: it was a clever trick to get those chains across the gulf,
high up in air: but not so clever a trick as to make a single
stone of which those piers are built, or a single flower or leaf
in those woods. The more you see of Madam How's masonry and
carpentry, the clumsier man's work will look to you. But now we
must get ready to give up our tickets, and go ashore, and settle
ourselves in the train; and then we shall have plenty to see as we
run home; more curious, to my mind, than any suspension bridge.
And you promised to show me all the different
 rocks and soils as
we went home, because it was so dark when we came from Reading.
Now we are settled in the train. And what do you want to know
More about the new rocks being lower than the old ones, though
they lie on the top of them.
Well, look here, at this sketch.
 A boy piling up slates? What has that to do with it?
I saw you in Ireland piling slates against a rock just in this
way. And I thought to myself—"That is something like Madam How's
Why, see. The old rock stands for the mountains of the Old World,
like the Welsh mountains, or the Mendip Hills. The slates stand
for the new rocks, which have been piled up against these, one
over the other. But, you see, each slate is lower than the one
before it, and slopes more; till the last slate which you are
putting on is the lowest of all, though it overlies all.
I see now. I see now.
Then look at the sketch of the rocks between this and home. It is
only a rough sketch, of course: but it will make you understand
something more about the matter. Now. You see, the lump marked
A. with twisted lines in it. That stands for the Mendip Hills to
the west, which are made of old red sandstone, very much the same
rock (to speak roughly) as the Kerry mountains.
And why are the lines in it twisted?
To show that the strata, the layers in it, are twisted, and set up
at quite different angles from the limestone.
But how was that done?
 By old earthquakes and changes which happened in old worlds, ages
on ages since. Then the edges of the old red sandstone were eaten
away by the sea—and some think by ice too, in some earlier age of
ice; and then the limestone coral reef was laid down on them,
"unconformably," as geologists say—just as you saw the new red
sandstone laid down on the edges of the limestone; and so one
world is built up on the edge of another world, out of its scraps
Then do you see B., with a notch in it? That means these
limestone hills on the shoulder of the Mendips; and that notch is
the gorge of the Avon which we have steamed through.
And what is that black above it?
That is the coal, a few miles off, marked C.
And what is this D, which comes next?
 That is what we are on now. New red sandstone, lying
unconformably on the coal. I showed it you in the bed of the
river, as we came along in the cab. We are here in a sort of
amphitheatre, or half a one, with the limestone hills around us,
and the new red sandstone plastered on, as it were, round the
bottom of it inside.
But what is this high bit with E against it?
Those are the high hills round Bath, which we shall run through
soon. They are newer than the soil here; and they are (for an
exception) higher too; for they are so much harder than the soil
here, that the sea has not eaten them away, as it has all the
lowlands from Bristol right into the Somersetshire flats.
There. We are off at last, and going to run home to Reading,
through one of the loveliest lines (as I think) of old England.
And between the intervals of eating fruit, we will geologize on
the way home, with this little bit of paper to show us where we
What pretty rocks!
Yes. They are a boss of the coal measures, I believe, shoved up
with the lias, the lias lying round them. But I warn you I may
not be quite right: because I never looked at a geological map of
this part of the line, and have learnt what I know, just as
 I want
you to learn simply by looking out of the carriage window.
Look. Here is lias rock in the side of the cutting; layers of
hard blue limestone, and then layers of blue mud between them, in
which, if you could stop to look, you would find fossils in
plenty; and along that lias we shall run to Bath, and then all the
rocks will change.
Now, here we are at Bath; and here are the handsome fruit-women,
waiting for you to buy.
And oh, what strawberries and cherries!
Yes. All this valley is very rich, and very sheltered too, and
very warm; for the soft south-western air sweeps up it from the
Bristol Channel; so the slopes are covered with fruit-orchards, as
you will see as you get out of the station.
Why, we are above the tops of the houses.
Yes. We have been rising ever since we left Bristol; and you will
soon see why. Now we have laid in as much fruit as is safe for
you, and away we go.
Oh, what high hills over the town! And what beautiful stone
houses! Even the cottages are built of stone.
All that stone comes out of those high hills, into which we are
going now. It is called Bathstone freestone, or oolite; and it
lies on the top
 of the lias, which we have just left. Here it is
What steep hills, and cliffs too, and with quarries in them! What
can have made them so steep? And what can have made this little
Madam How's rain-spade from above, I suppose, and perhaps the sea
gnawing at their feet below. Those freestone hills once stretched
high over our heads, and far away, I suppose, to the westward.
Now they are all gnawed out into cliffs,—indeed gnawed clean
through in the bottom of the valley, where the famous hot springs
break out in which people bathe.
Is that why the place is called Bath?
Of course. But the Old Romans called the place Aquæ Solis—the
waters of the sun; and curious old Roman remains are found here,
which we have not time to stop and see.
Now look out at the pretty clear limestone stream running to meet
us below, and the great limestone hills closing over us above.
How do you think we shall get out from among them?
Shall we go over their tops?
No. That would be too steep a climb, for even such a great engine
Then there is a crack which we can get through?
Look and see.
 Why, we are coming to a regular wall of hill, and—
And going right through it in the dark. We are in the Box Tunnel.
There is the light again: and now I suppose you will find your
How long it seemed before we came out!
Yes, because you were waiting and watching, with nothing to look
at: but the tunnel is only a mile and a quarter long, after all, I
believe. If you had been looking at fields and hedgerows all the
while, you would have thought no time at all had passed.
What curious sandy rocks on each side of the cutting, in lines and
Those are the freestone still: and full of fossils they are. But
do you see that they dip away from us? Remember that. All the
rocks are sloping eastward, the way we are going; and each new
rock or soil we come to lies on the top of the one before it. Now
we shall run down hill for many a mile, down the back of the
oolites, past pretty Chippenham, and Wootton Bassett, towards
Swindon spire. Look at the country, child; and thank God for this
fair English land, in which your lot is cast.
What beautiful green fields; and such huge elm-trees; and
orchards; and flowers in the cottage gardens!
Ay, and what crops, too: what wheat and beans,
 turnips and
mangold! All this land is very rich and easily worked; and
hereabouts is some of the best farming in England. The
Agricultural College at Cirencester, of which you have so often
heard, lies thereaway, a few miles to our left; and there lads go
to learn to farm, as no men in the world, save English and Scotch,
know how to farm.
But what rock are we on now?
On rock that is much softer than that on the other side of the
oolite hills: much softer, because it is much newer. We have got
off the oolites on to what is called the Oxford clay: and then, I
believe, on to the Coral rag: and on that again lies what we are
coming to now. Do you see the red sand in that field?
 Then that is the lowest layer of a fresh world, so to speak; a
world still younger than the oolites—the chalk world.
But that is not chalk, or anything like it.
No, that is what is called Greensand.
But it is not green, it is red.
I know: but years ago it got the name from one green vein in it,
in which the "Coprolites," as you learnt to call them at
Cambridge, are found; and that, and a little layer of blue clay,
called gault, between the upper Greensand and lower Greensand,
runs along everywhere at the foot of the chalk hills.
I see the hills now. Are they chalk?
Yes, chalk they are: so we may begin to feel near home now. See
how they range away to the south toward Devizes, and Westbury, and
Warminster, a goodly land and large. At their feet, everywhere,
run the rich pastures on which the Wiltshire cheese is made; and
here and there, as at Westbury, there is good iron-ore in the
green sand, which is being smelted now, as it used to be in the
Weald of Surrey and Kent ages since. I must tell you about that
some other time.
But are there Coprolites here?
I believe there are: I know there are some at Swindon; and I do
not see why they should not be found, here and there, all the way
along the foot of the downs, from here to Cambridge.
 But do these downs go to Cambridge?
Of course they do. We are now in the great valley which runs
right across England from south-west to north-east, from Axminster
in Devonshire to Hunstanton in Norfolk, with the chalk always on
your right hand, and the oolite hills on your left, till it ends
by sinking into the sea, among the fens of Lincolnshire and
But what made that great valley?
I am not learned enough to tell. Only this I think we can say—that once on a time these chalk downs on our right reached high
over our heads here, and far to the north; and that Madam How
pared them away, whether by icebergs, or by sea-waves, or merely
by rain, I cannot tell.
Well, those downs do look very like sea-cliffs.
So they do, very like an old shore-line. Be that as it may, after
the chalk was eaten away, Madam How began digging into the soils
below the chalk, on which we are now; and because they were mostly
soft clays, she cut them out very easily, till she came down, or
nearly down, to the harder freestone rocks which run along on our
left hand, miles away; and so she scooped out this great vale,
which we call here the Vale of White Horse; and further on, the
Vale of Aylesbury; and then the Bedford Level; and then the dear
ugly old Fens.
Is this the Vale of White Horse? Oh, I know
 about it; I have read
"The Scouring of the White Horse."
Of course you have; and when you are older you will read a jollier
book still,—"Tom Brown's School Days"—and when we have passed
Swindon, we shall see some of the very places described in it,
close on our right.
There is the White Horse Hill.
The White Horse Hill? But where is the horse?
I can see a bit of
him: but he does not look like a horse from here, or indeed from
any other place; he is a very old horse indeed, and a thousand
years of wind and rain have spoilt his anatomy a good deal on the
top of that wild down.
And is that really where Alfred fought the Danes?
As certainly, boy, I believe, as that Waterloo is where the Duke
fought Napoleon. Yes: you may well stare at it with all your
eyes, the noble down. It is one of the most sacred spots on
Ah, it is gone now. The train runs so fast.
So it does; too fast to let you look long at one thing: but in
return, it lets you see so many more things in a given time than
the slow old coaches and posters did.—Well? what is it?
I wanted to ask you a question, but you won't listen to me.
Won't I? I suppose I was dreaming with my eyes
 open. You see, I
have been so often along this line—and through this country, too,
long before the line was made—that I cannot pass it without its
seeming full of memories—perhaps of ghosts.
Of real ghosts?
As real ghosts, I suspect, as any one on earth ever saw; faces and
scenes which have printed themselves so deeply on one's brain,
that when one passes the same place, long years after, they start
up again, out of fields and roadsides, as if they were alive once
more, and need sound sense to send them back again into their
place as things which are past for ever, for good and ill. But
what did you want to know?
Why, I am so tired of looking out of the window. It is all the
same: fields and hedges, hedges and fields; and I want to talk.
Fields and hedges, hedges and fields? Peace and plenty, plenty
and peace. However, it may seem dull, now that the grass is cut;
but you would not have said so two months ago, when the fields
were all golden-green with buttercups, and the whitethorn hedges
like crested waves of snow. I should like to take a foreigner
down the Vale of Berkshire in the end of May, and ask him what he
thought of old England. But what shall we talk about?
I want to know about Coprolites, if they dig them here, as they do
 I don't think they do. But I suspect they will some day.
But why do people dig them?
Because they are rational men, and want manure for their fields.
But what are Coprolites?
Well, they were called Coprolites at first because some folk
fancied they were the leavings of fossil animals, such as you may
really find in the lias at Lynn in Dorsetshire. But they are not
that; and all we can say is, that a long time ago, before the
chalk began to be made, there was a shallow sea in England, the
shore of which was so covered with dead animals, that the bone-earth (the phosphate of lime) out of them crusted itself round
every bone, and shell, and dead sea-beast on the shore, and got
covered up with fresh sand, and buried for ages as a mine of
But how many millions of dead creatures, there must have been!
What killed them?
We do not know. No more do we know how it comes to pass that this
thin band (often only a few inches thick) of dead creatures should
stretch all the way from Dorsetshire to Norfolk, and, I believe,
up through Lincolnshire. And what is stranger still, this same
bone-earth bed crops out on the south side of the chalk at
Farnham, and stretches along the foot of those downs, right into
Kent, making the richest
 hop-lands in England, through Surrey, and
away to Tunbridge. So that it seems as if the bed lay under the
chalk everywhere, if once we could get down to it.
But how does it make the hop-lands so rich?
Because hops, like tobacco and vines, take more phosphorus out of
the soil than any other plants which we grow in England; and it is
the washings of this bone-earth bed which make the lower lands in
Farnham so unusually rich, that in some of them—the garden, for
instance, under the Bishop's castle—have grown hops without
resting, I believe, for three hundred years.
But who found out all this about the Coprolites?
Ah—I will tell you; and show you how scientific men, whom
ignorant people sometimes laugh at as dreamers, and mere
pickers-up of useless weeds and old stones, may do real service to their
country and their countrymen, as I hope you will some day.
There was a clergyman named Henslow, now with God, honoured by all
scientific men, a kind friend and teacher of mine, loved by every
little child in his parish. His calling was botany: but he knew
something of geology. And some of these Coprolites were brought
him as curiosities, because they had fossils in them. But he (so
the tale goes) had the wit to see that they were not, like other
fossils, carbonate of lime, but phosphate of lime—bone-earth.
 Whereon he told the neighbouring farmers that they had a mine of
wealth opened to them, if they would but use them for manure. And
after a while he was listened to. Then others began to find them
in the Eastern counties; and then another man, as learned and wise
as he was good and noble,—John Paine of Farnham, also now with
God,—found them on his own estate, and made much use and much
money of them: and now tens of thousands of pounds' worth of
valuable manure are made out of them, every year, in Cambridgeshire
and Bedfordshire, by digging them out of land which was till
lately only used for common farmers' crops.
But how do they turn Coprolites into manure? I used to see them
in the railway trucks at Cambridge, and they were all like what I
have at home—hard pebbles.
They grind them first in a mill. Then they mix them with
sulphuric acid and water, and that melts them down, and parts them
into two things. One is sulphate of lime (gypsum, as it is
commonly called), and which will not dissolve in water, and is of
little use. But the other is what is called superphosphate of
lime, which will dissolve in water; so that the roots of the
plants can suck it up: and that is one of the richest of manures.
Oh, I know: you put superphosphate on the grass last year.
 Yes. But not that kind; a better one still. The superphosphate
from the Copriolites is good; but the superphosphate from fresh
bones is better still, and therefore dearer, because it has in it
the fibrine of the bones, which is full of nitrogen, like gristle
or meat; and all that has been washed out of the bone-earth bed
ages and ages ago. But you must learn some chemistry to
I should like to be a scientific man, if one can find out such
really useful things by science.
Child, there is no saying what you might find out, or of what use
you may be to your fellow-men. A man working at science, however
dull and dirty his work may seem at times, is like one of those
"chiffoniers," as they call them in Paris—people who spend their
lives in gathering rags and sifting refuse, but who may put their
hands at any moment upon some precious jewel. And not only may
you be able to help your neighbours to find out what will give
them health and wealth: but you may, if you can only get them to
listen to you, save them from many a foolish experiment, which
ends in losing money just for want of science. I have heard of a
man who, for want of science, was going to throw away great sums
(I believe he, luckily for him, never could raise the money) in
boring for coal in our Bagshot sands at home. The man thought
that because there was coal under the heather moors in
 the North,
there must needs be coal here likewise, when a geologist could
have told him the contrary. There was another man at Hennequin's
Lodge, near the Wellington College, who thought he would make the
poor sands fertile by manuring them with whale oil, of all things
in the world. So he not only lost all the cost of his whale oil,
but made the land utterly barren, as it is unto this day; and all
for want of science.
And I knew a manufacturer, too, who went to bore an Artesian well
for water, and hired a regular well-borer to do it. But,
meanwhile he was wise enough to ask a geologist of those parts how
far he thought it was down to the water. The geologist made his
calculations, and said:
"You will go through so many feet of Bagshot sand; and so many
feet of London clay; and so many feet of the Thanet beds between
them and the chalk: and then you will win water, at about 412
feet; but not, I think, till then."
The well-sinker laughed at that, and said, "He had no opinion of
geologists, and suchlike. He never found any clay in England but
what he could get through in 150 feet."
So he began to bore—150 feet, 200, 300: and then he began to
look rather silly; at last, at 405—only seven feet short of what
the geologist had foretold—up came the water in a regular spout.
 But, lo and behold, not expecting to have to bore so deep, he had
made his bore much too small; and the sand out of the Thanet beds
"blew up" into the bore, and closed it. The poor manufacturer
spent hundreds of pounds more in trying to get the sand out, but
in vain; and he had at last to make a fresh and much larger well
by the side of the old one, bewailing the day when he listened to
the well-sinker and not to the geologist, and so threw away more
than a thousand pounds. And there is an answer to what you asked
on board the yacht—What use was there in learning little matters
of natural history and science, which seemed of no use at all?
And now, look out again. Do you see any change in the country?
Why, there to the left.
There are high hills there now, as well as to the right. What are
Chalk hills too. The chalk is on both sides of us now. These are
the Chilterns, all away to Ipsden and Nettlebed, and so on across
Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and into Hertfordshire; and on
again to Royston and Cambridge, while below them lies the Vale of
Aylesbury; you can just see the beginning of it on their left. A
pleasant land are those hills, and wealthy; full of noble houses
buried in the deep beech-woods, which once were a great
stretching in a ring round the north of London, full of deer and
boar, and of wild bulls too, even as late as the twelfth century,
according to the old legend of Thomas à Becket's father and the
fair Saracen, which you have often heard.
I know. But how are you going to get through the chalk hills? Is
there a tunnel as there is at Box and at Micheldever?
No. Something much prettier than a tunnel, and something which
took a great many years longer in making. We shall soon meet with
a very remarkable and famous old gentleman, who is a great adept
at digging, and at landscape-gardening likewise; and he has dug
out a path for himself through the chalk, which we shall take the
liberty of using also. And his name, if you wish to know it, is
I see him. What a great river!
Yes. Here he comes, gleaming and winding down from Oxford, over
the lowlands, past Wallingford; but where he is going to it is not
so easy to see.
Ah, here is chalk in the cutting at last. And what a high bridge!
And the river far under our feet. Why we are crossing him again!
Yes; he winds more sharply than a railroad can. But is not this
prettier than a tunnel?
Oh, what hanging-woods, and churches; and such great houses, and
pretty cottages and gardens—all in this narrow crack of a valley!
 Ay. Old Father Thames is a good landscape gardener, as I said.
There is Basildon—and Hurley—and Pangbourne, with its roaring
lasher. Father Thames has had to work hard for many an age, before
he could cut this trench right through the chalk, and drain the
water out of the flat vale behind us. But I suspect the sea
helped him somewhat, or perhaps a great deal, just where we are
Yes. The sea was once—and that not so very long ago—right up
here, beyond Reading. This is the uppermost end of the great
Thames valley, which must have been an estuary—a tide flat, like
the mouth of the Severn, with the sea eating along at the foot of
all the hills. And if the land sunk only some fifty feet,—which
is a very little indeed, child, in this huge, ever-changing
world,—then the tide would come up to Reading again, and the
greater part of London and the county of Middlesex drowned in
How dreadful that would be!
Dreadful indeed. God grant that it may never happen. More
terrible changes of land and water have happened, and are
happening still in the world: but none, I think, could happen
which would destroy so much civilization and be such a loss to
mankind, as that the Thames valley should become again what it
was, geologically speaking, only the other day, when these gravel
banks, over which we are
 running to Reading, were being washed out
of the chalk cliffs up above at every tide, and rolled on a beach,
as you have seen them rolling still at Ramsgate.
Now here we are at Reading. There is the carriage waiting, and
away we are off home; and when we get home, and have seen
everybody and everything, we will look over our section once more.
But remember, that when you ran through the chalk hills to
Reading, you passed from the bottom of the chalk to the top of it,
on to the Thames gravels, which lie there on the chalk, and on to
the London clay, which lies on the chalk also, with the Thames
gravels always over it. So that, you see, the newest layers, the
London clay and the gravels, are lower in height than the
limestone cliffs at Bristol, and much lower than the old mountain
ranges of Devonshire and Wales, though in geological order they
are far higher; and there are whole worlds of strata, rocks and
clays, one on the other, between the Thames gravels and the
But how about our moors? They are newer still, you said, than the
London clay, because they lie upon it: and yet they are much
higher than we are here at Reading.
Very well said: so they are, two or three hundred feet higher.
But our part of them was left behind, standing up in banks, while
the valley of the
 Thames was being cut out by the sea. Once they
spread all over where we stand now, and away behind us beyond
Newbury in Berkshire, and away in front of us, all over where
London now stands.
How can you tell that?
Because there are little caps—little patches—of them left on the
tops of many hills to the north of London; just remnants which the
sea, and the Thames, and the rain have not eaten down. Probably
they once stretched right out to sea, sloping slowly under the
waves, where the mouth of the Thames is now. You know the sand-cliffs at Bournemouth?
Then those are of the same age as the Bagshot sands, and lie on
the London clay, and slope down off the New Forest into the sea,
which eats them up, as you know, year by year and day by day. And
there were once perhaps cliffs just like them, where London Bridge
There, we are rumbling away home at last, over the dear old
heather-moors. How far we have travelled—in our fancy at least—since we began to talk about all these things, upon the foggy
November day, and first saw Madam How digging at the sand-banks
with her water-spade! How many countries we have talked of; and
what wonderful questions we have got answered, which all grew out
of the first question,
 How were the heather-moors made? And yet
we have not talked about a hundredth part of the things about
which these very heather-moors ought to set us thinking. But so
it is, child. Those who wish honestly to learn the laws of Madam
How, which we call Nature, by looking honestly at what she does,
which we call Fact, have only to begin by looking at the very
smallest thing, pin's head or pebble, at their feet, and it may
lead them—whither, they cannot tell. To answer any one question,
you find you must answer another; and to answer that you must
answer a third, and then a fourth; and so on for ever and ever.
For ever and ever?
Of course. If we thought and searched over the Universe—ay, I
believe, only over this one little planet called earth—for
millions on millions of years, we should not get to the end of our
searching. The more we learnt, the more we should find there was
left to learn. All things, we should find, are constituted
according to a Divine and Wonderful Order, which links each thing
to every other thing; so that we cannot fully comprehend any one
thing without comprehending all things: and who can do that, save
He who made all things? Therefore our true wisdom is never to
fancy that we do comprehend: never to make systems and theories
of the universe (as they are called) as if we had stood by and
 when time and space began to be: but to remember that
those who say they understand, show, simply by so saying, that
they understand nothing at all; that those who say they see, are
sure to be blind; while those who confess that they are blind, are
sure some day to see. All we can do is, to keep up the childlike
heart, humble and teachable, though we grew as wise as Newton or
as Humboldt; and to
 follow, as good Socrates bids us, Reason
whithersoever it leads us, sure that it will never lead us wrong,
unless we have darkened it by hasty and conceited fancies of our
own, and so have become like those foolish men of old, of whom it
was said that the very light within them was darkness. But if we
love and reverence and trust Fact and Nature, which are the will,
not merely of Madam How, or even of Lady Why, but of Almighty God
Himself, then we shall be really loving, and reverencing, and
trusting God; and we shall have our reward by discovering
continually fresh wonders and fresh benefits to man; and find it
as true of science, as it is of this life and of the life to come—that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into
the heart of man to conceive, what God has prepared for those who
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