National Geographic : 1899 Nov
THE RATIONAL ELEMENT IN GEOGRAPHY 467 The two chief causes of the change now in rapid progress from an empirical to a rational geography originated outside of the limits of geography proper. One of the causes is the under standing of the evolution of land forms that has been contributed by geology; the other is the belief in the evolution of organic forms contributed by biology. To these must be added the better knowledge of meteorology through the application of physics to the study of the atmosphere, as well as the results of strictly geographical exploration of lands and seas; but all this is of secondary importance alongside of the revolution that has been worked by the acceptance of inorganic and organic evolution. The study of the earth in relation to man, as now illuminated, has become wonderfully more interesting at this end of the century than it was in Ritter's time in the beginning, and we may well believe that the explorations of the twentieth century will profit greatly by the more sympathetic appreciation of nature that geographers will then carry into the field. It will not be possible to consider in this article any of the organic elements of geography, and among the many inorganic elements of the subject attention can now be given only to the lands; the earth as a globe, the atmosphere, and the ocean can not be included. Furthermore, only one of the most practical aspects of land study will here be touched upon, namely, the art of giving an accurate and effective verbal description of land forms: a description that shall be at once accurate in represent ing the essential facts of nature, and effective in being intelligi ble to its hearers or readers. It is not a simple matter to frame a good verbal description of geographical forms. The description must not attempt the impossible by undertaking to set forth facts of form and relief with the fidelity of a good model, or by trying to indicate facts of distribution as accurately as they are shown on a good map, or by seeking to present perspective impressions from a single point of view, such as are given in good pictures. The patience of the hearer or reader would be sorely tried if the perseverance of the speaker or writer tempted him to indicate by words the innumerable details that find proper expression by plastic, graphic, or pictorial art. Verbal description has an object of its own. It must be devoted chiefly to summarized facts, whether they are details or generalities, and it must deal with new facts by means of their likeness or contrast with certain previously known types whose forms serve as the standards upon which descriptive terms are based.