“There is nothing new, under the sun”
How true is this apophthegm! Yet how often has it been admired or ridiculed without being properly understood! I am far from wishing to exalt the antients at the expense of the moderns, nor do I mean here to discuss a subject alluded to in a former paper, how far the sages of other years may have been acquainted with many of the facts recently developed by Modern Science, yet how many of the boasted discoveries of later times in every walk of knowledge, seem to have been suspected if not perfectly known by the philosophers of elder days. How often have popular traditions long neglected or despised, been eagerly seized on, as affording the only plausible explication of phenomena, whose cause has been the subject of eager contest. The philosophers of Greece, like the alchemists of the Middle Ages, were fond of shrouding their knowledge in a veil impenetrable to the uninitiated — a veil which all the light of the most recent and brilliant discoveries has been requisite to pierce. In my opinion, a man who is anxious to investigate the real history of a country, will never reject with disdain the traditions of its inhabitants.
Though full of improbabilities, though mingled with fiction and enveloped in allegory, such traditions must have had some foundation, or they would not have existed. The idea that a period of perpetual spring was once known upon the Earth, has long been ridiculed yet the observations of astronomers make it evident that the obliquity of the ecliptic varies considerably. A number of grand oscillations, the consequence of reciprocal and regulated attractions between the sun and the planets, are continually proceeding. At the time when chronologists place the creation of the world (about 6000 years ago) all these oscillations were in equlibrio. At that time they commenced, some have already often completed and recommenced their changes, the motions of some are now advancing to a termination to be again begun, while others move so slowly that their progress from the beginning of the world to the present day, appears scarcely to afford a point from which their probable duration may be calculated. Among these, the obliquity of the ecliptic has once attained its maximum, and is now again decreasing, and our seasons are in consequence becoming every year less marked, though with a change so slow as to be scarcely perceptible, and frequently, to our feelings, more than counterbalanced by minor causes. This obliquity we have seen does not become so great as to give us tropical summers and arctic winters, neither can it be believed that the seasons though less marked were ever lost in one another. Nor is such a state desirable, however it may have been embellished by the imagination of the poet. Were the path of the sun on the equator, the whole of the torrid zone would be an arid desert, and the polar regions would be enveloped in eternal darkness and unmitigated frost. Nor would the inhabitants of more temperate regions have much to boast in their perpetual spring. Grant that the equality of temperature were secured to us, a temperature of about 60 degrees. Such a temperature would indeed permit the existence of plants hitherto confined to lower latitudes, but it would not bring them to maturity. The orange and the olive might blossom in our groves, but even the cherry and the plum would refuse to ripen. Our fields would mock us throughout the year with the promise of an abundant harvest, but its sickly yellow would never invite the sickle. Nor is it likely that even this equality would be ours. While our globe revolves, and electricity exists, while the tides rise and fall, and the rivers flow, there must be winds. The sultry breath of the south would parch our fields, and the blasts of the north, coming from a region of unyielding frost, would bring a real winter. But this is a digression. My object was merely to show that the fable of perpetual spring, however exaggerated, might yet have its foundation in truth.
That Africa was better known to the Phoenicians, than with all our boasted journeys of discovery, it is to us, appears tolerably evident, neither can I help believing that Columbus was not the first European who visited America. Of the existence of the Atlantis likewise I have little doubt, nor, notwithstanding the sages that have puzzled themselves with discovering it to be Ireland, Spitzbergen, Denmark, or Persia, and to reconcile the accounts of its vegetation with the length of its days, have I any hesitation about its situation. It extended from the Southern Coast of Africa in a long line to the North-west, the Canaries, the Madeiras, the Azores, perhaps even the Cape de Verde islands were a part of this chain, and at Nova Scotia or New Greenland it approached America, the continent to which it is described as leading. Such a description will reconcile the descriptions given by Plato of the mildness and fertility of the southern extremity (which derived its name of Gadir from the number of its flocks) with the assertion of Plutarch that the sun is but one hour beneath the horizon in summer. Tradition says that this island was engulfed in one night; let not the immensity of the effect startle us! It is perhaps not greater than, perhaps coeval with, that convulsion which tradition and observation alike attest to have burst the Straits of Constantinople, drained the Steppes of Tartary, and made an extensive plain of that sea where the Argonauts had once sailed.
The Canaries and Azores are still the seat of active volcanoes. It is not four years since an English frigate was present at the birth of an island off St Michaels, planted the British Flag upon its summit, and christened it Sabrina. Yet this island is already buried in the waves, and perhaps in a few years its existence will be considered equally problematical with that of the Atlantis, which sinking in the abysses of the ocean, engulfed with itself the knowledge of America. The Basques or Biscayans, a race totally different from all the nations of Europe, and inhabiting a tract near the region of the supposed Atlantis, have a great affinity with the tribes of America, as great as one the other side the Esquimaux bear with the Calmucks. The Peruvians describe themselves as owing their civilization to two strangers. From the worship of the sun introduced by Manco Capac and Mama Ocilla, were they not probably Persians, or more probably, as the Sabean worship extended over great part both of Asia and Africa, and spread from Persia into India, were they not wanderers from the nearer shore of Hindostan, driven unexpectedly to an unknown region, and describing themselves, not with any intention of arrogating divine honours, but merely in the warmth of Eastern language as “Children of the Sun”. It is well known that in Kamchatka Columbus had seen an antient map in which the shores of America were rudely depicted. Let not his spirit rise, and think I mean to defraud him of his well earned honours; I would rather add to them. A vulgar spirit might contemplate the immense distance between Mars and Jupiter, and say there ought to be a planet there — a vulgar spirit might glance at the map, and say that the vast unknown region could not be all sea, but it was no common man that dared to trust to the conviction of his own mind, to risk his fame, his life, on this grand object, and that pursued it with unshaken constancy to its end.
It is not my intention here to enter into the origin of the tribes, the languages, and the customs of the New World. To decide whether some of their inscriptions may or may not be Phoenician. From what region the Aztecs emigrated, or what weight is to be given to the affinity which some of the signs of their Zodiac bear to those of the Hindus, or their history of the origin and fall of man to that of Scripture. These are the labours of minuter, and more erudite research, but what has been already said, may produce a most lively regret, that knowledge was reduced to struggle with a second infancy. That the fabric her first morning had constructed was demolished in the night that followed, and that all her labour was to commence again. Such another misfortune she can scarcely fear, her discoveries have been diffused and stabilitated by an art that has perhaps conferred greater benefits on mankind that any other, the discovery of the Art of Printing.