George Peabody, who did so much to encourage schools and learning, originated the motto, so happily illustrated by his own munificent gifts to promote education: " Education—the debt of the present to future generations." We owe it to our children to leave our lands the better for our tillage, and we wrong both ourselves and them if our fields are impoverished by our improvidence. But much as foresight is admired when its predictions are realized and its achievements made, all history too plainly tells that the mass of men are not easily persuaded to provide for exigencies far in the future. It was more than two centuries after the death of Bernard Palissy, the famous " Potter of the Tuilleries," and after many sad lessons of devastating mountain torrents resulting from excessive forest denudation, before France learned to heed his earnest warning. Expressing his indignation at the folly of such general destruction of the woods he said: " I call it not error, but a curse and a calamity to all France. When I consider the value of the least clump of trees, I marvel at the great ignorance of men who do now-a-days study only to break down, fell and waste the fair forests which their forefathers did guard so choicely. I would think no evil of them for cutting down the woods, did they but replant some part of them again, but they care naught for the time to come, neither reck they of the great damage they do to their children." In 1680, the eminent French statesman, Colbert, said to Louis XIV.: " France will perish for want of wood."
It was not, however, till 1859 and 1860 that stringent law3 were passed for the protection of existing woodlands and the formation of new forests. The former of these laws passed the Assembly by a vote of 246 against 4, and the latter with but a single negative voice. The unanimity with which these laws were enacted, though they seriously interfere with the rights of private domain, shows at last the strength of the popular conviction that the protection and extension of forests were matters of national interest and necessity, and would arrest the devastations of mountain torrents and river inundations. The law of 1860 appropriated 10,000,000 francs, at the rate of 1,000,000 a year, in aiding the replanting of woods. In 1865 a bill was passed for securing the soil in exposed localities by grading, and the formation of greensward.
This measure, proved to be beneficial in France, Mr. Marsh highly recommends for adoption in the United States. The leading features of this system are marking out and securing from pasturage and browsing a zone along the banks of ravines, which is carefully turfed and planted with shrubs and trees; consolidating the scarps of the ravines by grading and wattling and establishing barriers of solid masonry, or more commonly of fascines, or other simple materials across the bed of the stream, and cutting narrow terraces along the scarps. Many hundred ravines, formerly the channels of formidable torrents, have been secured by barriers, and by grading and planting, and the success of the system has far surpassed all expectation. The plan of circling, long used in this country, is now adopted in France. This plan prevents the wash of the surface, and provides irrigation by running horizontal furrows along the hill-sides, and thus cheaply securing a succession of small terraces, checking the rapid flow of the surface water, obviating one cause of inundations, and greatly fertilizing the lands thus irrigated.
The evils of widespread forest denudation both as regards climatic changes, uniform flow of springs and streams, devastation by mountain torrents, and the exhaustion of once fertile lands, have been long and sadly felt in the Old World. Many rich and fertile countries have become arid wastes when denuded of trees. The Mediterranean coast of Africa is a case in point. Tunis and Algiers were once fertile regions, supporting a dense population. Their decadence is traceable largely to the destruction of their forests. Rentzsch ascribes the political decadence of Spain almost wholly to the destruction of the forests.
Mr. George P. Marsh says: "There are parts of Asia Minor, of Northern Africa, of Greece, and even of Alpine Europe, where causes set in action by man have brought the face of the earth to a desolation as complete as that of the moon, and yet they are known to have been once covered with luxuriant woods, verdant pastures, and fertile meadows; and a dense population formerly inhabited those now lonely districts. The fairest and fruitfulest provinces of the Roman empire once endowed with the greatest superiority of soil, climate, and position, are completely exhausted of their fertility, or so diminished in their productiveness as, with the exception of a few favored cases that have escaped the general ruin, to be no longer capable of affording sustenance to civilized man. If to this realm of desolation we add the now wasted and solitary soils of Persia and the remoter East, that once fed their millions with milk and honey, we shall see that a territory larger than all Europe, the abundance of which sustained in by-gone centuries a population scarcely inferior to that of the whole Christian world at the present day, has been entirely withdrawn from human use, or at best is inhabited by tribes too few, poor, and uncultivated to contribute anything to the general, moral, or material interests of mankind. The destructive changes occasioned by the agency of man upon the flanks of the Alps, the Appenines, the Pyrenees, and other mountain ranges of Central and Southern Europe, and the progress of physical deterioration, have become so rapid that in some localities a single generation has witnessed the beginning and the end of the melancholy revolution. A destruction like that which has overwhelmed many once beautiful and fertile regions of Europe awaits an important part of the territory of the United States, unless prompt measures are taken to check the action of the destructive causes already in operation."