The followers of Werner came to be known as Neptunists; the Huttonians as Plutonists. The history of geology during the first quarter of the nineteenth century is mainly a recital of the intemperate controversy between these opposing schools; though it should not be forgotten that, meantime, the members of the Geological Society of London were making an effort to hunt for facts and avoid compromising theories. Fact and theory, however, were too closely linked to be thus divorced.
The brunt of the controversy settled about the unstratified rocks--granites and their allies--which the Plutonists claimed as of igneous origin. This contention had the theoretical support of the nebular hypothesis, then gaining ground, which supposed the earth to be a cooling globe. The Plutonists laid great stress, too, on the observed fact that the temperature of the earth increases at a pretty constant ratio as descent towards its centre is made in mines. But in particular they appealed to the phenomena of volcanoes.
The evidence from this source was gathered and elaborated by Mr. G. Poulett Scrope, secretary of the Geological Society of England, who, in 1823, published a classical work on volcanoes in which he claimed that volcanic mountains, including some of the highest- known peaks, are merely accumulated masses of lava belched forth from a crevice in the earth's crust.
"Supposing the globe to have had any irregular shape when detached from the sun," said Scrope, "the vaporization of its surface, and, of course, of its projecting angles, together with its rotatory motion on its axis and the liquefaction of its outer envelope, would necessarily occasion its actual figure of an oblate spheroid. As the process of expansion proceeded in depth, the original granitic beds were first partially disaggregated, next disintegrated, and more or less liquefied, the crystals being merged in the elastic vehicle produced by the vaporization of the water contained between the laminae.
"Where this fluid was produced in abundance by great dilatation--that is, in the outer and highly disintegrated strata, the superior specific gravity of the crystals forced it to ooze upward, and thus a great quantity of aqueous vapor was produced on the surface of the globe. As this elastic fluid rose into outer space, its continually increasing expansion must have proportionately lowered its temperature; and, in consequence, a part was recondensed into water and sank back towards the more solid surface of the globe.
"And in this manner, for a certain time, a violent reciprocation of atmospheric phenomena must have continued--torrents of vapor rising outwardly, while equally tremendous torrents of condensed vapor, or rain, fell towards the earth. The accumulation of the latter on the yet unstable and unconsolidated surface of the globe constituted the primeval ocean. The surface of this ocean was exposed to continued vaporization owing to intense heat; but this process, abstracting caloric from the stratum of the water below, by partially cooling it, tended to preserve the remainder in a liquid form. The ocean will have contained, both in solution and suspension, many of the matters carried upward from the granitic bed in which the vapors from whose condensation it proceeded were produced, and which they had traversed in their rise. The dissolved matters will have been silex, carbonates, and sulphates of lime, and those other mineral substances which water at an intense temperature and under such circumstances was enabled to hold in solution. The suspended substances will have been all the lighter and finer particles of the upper beds where the disintegration had been extreme; and particularly their mica, which, owing to the tenuity of its plate-shaped crystals, would be most readily carried up by the ascending fluid, and will have remained longest in suspension.
"But as the torrents of vapor, holding these various matters in solution and suspension, were forced upward, the greater part of the disintegrated crystals by degrees subsided; those of felspar and quartz first, the mica being, as observed above, from the form of its plates, of peculiar buoyancy, and therefore held longest in suspension.
"The crystals of felspar and quartz as they subsided, together with a small proportion of mica, would naturally arrange themselves so as to have their longest dimensions more or less parallel to the surface on which they rest; and this parallelism would be subsequently increased, as we shall see hereafter, by the pressure of these beds sustained between the weight of the supported column of matter and the expansive force beneath them. These beds I conceive, when consolidated, to constitute the gneiss formation.
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