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The Fens
by [?]

And lastly, my friend Mr. Brady, well known to naturalists, has found that many forms of Entomastraca are common to the estuaries of the east of England and to those of Holland.

It was thus necessary, in order to account for the presence of some of the common animals of the fen, to go back to an epoch of immense remoteness.

And how was that great lowland swept away? Who can tell? Probably by no violent convulsion. Slow upheavals, slow depressions, there may have been–indeed must have been–as the sunken fir-forests of Brancaster, and the raised beach of Hunstanton, on the extreme north- east corner of the Wash, testify to this day. But the main agent of destruction has been, doubtless, that same ever-gnawing sea-wash which devours still the soft strata of the whole east coast of England, as far as Flamborough Head; and that great scavenger, the tide-wave, which sweeps the fallen rubbish out to sea twice in every twenty-four hours. Wave and tide by sea, rain and river by land; these are God’s mighty mills in which He makes the old world new. And as Longfellow says of moral things, so may we of physical:-

‘Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.
Though He sit, end wait with patience, with exactness grinds He all.’

The lighter and more soluble particles, during that slow but vast destruction which is going on still to this day, have been carried far out to sea, and deposited as ooze. The heavier and coarser have been left along the shores, as the gravels which fill the old estuaries of the east of England.

From these gravels we can judge of the larger animals which dwelt in that old world. About these lost lowlands wandered herds of the woolly mammoth. Elephas primigenius, whose bones are common in certain Cambridge gravels, whose teeth are brought up by dredgers, far out in the German Ocean, off certain parts of the Norfolk coast. With them wandered the woolly rhinoceros (R. tichorhinus), the hippopotamus, the lion–not (according to some) to be distinguished from the recent lion of Africa–the hyaena, the bear, the horse, the reindeer, and the musk ox; the great Irish elk, whose vast horns are so well known in every museum of northern Europe; and that mighty ox, the Bos primigenius, which still lingered on the Continent in Caesar’s time, as the urus, in magnitude less only than the elephant,–and not to be confounded with the bison, a relation of, if not identical with, the buffalo of North America,–which still lingers, carefully preserved by the Czar, in the forests of Lithuania.

The remains of this gigantic ox, be it remembered, are found throughout Britain, and even into the Shetland Isles. Would that any gentleman who may see these pages would take notice of the fact, that we have not (so I am informed) in these islands a single perfect skeleton of Bos primigenius; while the Museum of Copenhagen, to its honour, possesses five or six from a much smaller field than is open to us; and be public-spirited enough, the next time he hears of ox- bones, whether in gravel or in peat (as he may in the draining of any northern moss), to preserve them for the museum of his neighbourhood- -or send them to Cambridge.

But did all these animals exist at the same time? It is difficult to say. The study of the different gravels is most intricate–almost a special science in itself–in which but two or three men are adepts. It is hard, at first sight, to believe that the hippopotamus could have been the neighbour of the Arctic reindeer and musk ox: but that the woolly mammoth not only may have been such, but was such, there can be no doubt. His remains, imbedded in ice at the mouth of the great Siberian rivers, with the wool, skin, and flesh (in some cases) still remaining on the bones, prove him to have been fitted for a cold climate, and to have browsed upon the scanty shrubs of Northern Asia. But, indeed, there is no reason, a priori, why these huge mammals, now confined to hotter countries, should not have once inhabited a colder region, or at least have wandered northwards in whole herds in summer, to escape insects, and find fresh food, and above all, water. The same is the case with the lion, and other huge beasts of prey. The tiger of Hindostan ranges, at least in summer, across the snows of the Himalaya, and throughout China. Even at the river Amoor, where the winters are as severe as at St. Petersburg, the tiger is an ordinary resident at all seasons. The lion was, undoubtedly, an inhabitant of Thrace as late as the expedition of Xerxes, whose camels they attacked; and the ‘Nemaean lion,’ and the other lions which stand out in Grecian myth, as having been killed by Hercules and the heroes, may have been the last remaining specimens of that Felis spelaea (undistinguishable, according to some, from the African lion), whose bones are found in the gravels and the caverns of these isles.