Europe - Geographical Importance
( Originally Published 1920 )
IN the geography of the world the first place is claimed for Europe not because of prejudice like that of the Chinese, but as a matter of right. Europe as yet is the only continent the whole of whose surface has been scientifically explored. It possesses a map approximately correct, and its material resources are almost fully known to us. Its population is, not as dense as that of India or of China, but it nevertheless contains about one-fourth of the total population of the globe ; and its inhabitants, whatever their failings and vices, or their state of barbarism in some respects, still impel the rest of mankind as regards material and mental progress. Europe, for twenty-five centuries, has been the focus whence radiated Arts, Sciences, and Thought. Nor have those hardy colonists who carried their European languages and customs beyond the sea succeeded hitherto in giv ing to the New World an importance equal to that of " little " Europe, in spite of the virgin soil and vast area which gave them scope for unlimited expansion.
Old Europe," where every clod of earth has its history, where every man is the heir of a hundred successive generations, therefore still maintains the first place, and a comparative study of nations justifies us in the belief that its moral ascendancy and industrial preponderance will remain with it for many years to come. At the same time, we must not shut our eves to the fact that equality will obtain in the end, not only between America and Europe, but also between these two and the other quarters of the world. The intermingling of nations migrations which have assumed prodigious proportions, and the increasing facilities of intercourse, must in the end lead to an equilibrium of population throughout the world. Then will each country add its proper share to the wealth of mankind, and what we call civilisation will have " its centre everywhere, its periphery nowhere."
The central geographical position of Europe has undoubtedly exercised a most favourable influence upon the progress of the nations inhabiting it. The superiority of the Europeans is certainly not due to the inherent virtues of the races from which they sprang, as is vainly imagined by some, for in other parts of the ancient world these same races have exhibited far less creative genius. To the happy conditions of soil, climate, configuration, and geographical position, the inhabitants of Europe owe the honour of having been the first to obtain a knowledge of the earth in its éntirety, and to have remained for so long a period at the head of mankind. Historical geographers are, therefore, right when they insist upon the influence which the configuration of a country exercises upon the nations who inhabit it. The extent of table-lands, the heights of mountain ranges, the direction and volume of rivers, the vicinity of the ocean, the indentation of the coast-line, the temperature of the air, the abundance or rarity of rain, and the correlations between soil, air, and water—all these are pregnant with effects, and explain much of the character and mode of life of primitive nations. The; account for most of the contrasts existing between nations subject to different conditions, and point ont the natural highways of the globe which nations are constrained to follow in their migrations or warlike expeditions.