Consider the earth in its origin: at first, a shapeless nebula, becoming gradually more and more condensed; next, a globe of fire, of rocks in fusion, whirling for millions of years through space, with no other object than that of forming, into a mass and cooling--an inconceivable incandescence which none of our sources of heat can suggest to us--an essential, scientific, absolute barrenness which may well have proclaimed itself irremediable and everlasting. Who would have thought that from these torrents of matter in eruption, which seemed to have destroyed forever all life or the least germ of life, there would emerge each and every form of life itself, from the greatest, the strongest, the most enduring, the most impetuous, the most abundant, down to the least visible, the most precarious, the most ephemeral, the most exiguous? Who could have dared foresee that they would give birth to what seems so utterly alien to the liquefied or viscous rocks and metals that alone formed the surface, the Aucleus, and the very entity of our globe? I mean our human intelligence and consciousness.
Is it possible to imagine a more unexpected evolution and ending? What could astonish us after so great an astonishment, and what are we not entitled to hope of a world which, after being what it was, has produced what we see and what we are? Considering that it started from a sort of negation of life, from integral barrenness, and from worse than nothing in order to end in us, where will it not end after starting from ourselves? If its birth and formation have elaborated such prodigies, what prodigies may not its existence, its indefinite prolongation, and its dissolution hold in store? There are an immeasurable distance and inconceivable transformations between the one frightful material of the early days and the human thought of this moment; and there will doubtless be a like distance and like transformations, as difficult to conceive, between the thought of this moment and that which will succeed it in the infinity of time.
It seems as if, in the beginning, our earth did not know what to do with its material and with its force, which interdevoured each other. In the vast, flaming void in which it was being consumed, it had not yet the shadow of an object or an idea; to-day, it has so many that our scholars wear out their lives to no purpose in seeking them, and are overwhelmed by the number of its mysterious and inexhaustible combinations. At that time, it disposed of but a single force, the most destructive that we know fire. If everything was born of fire, which itself seemed to be born only to destroy, what will not be born of that which seems to be born only to produce, beget, and multiply? If it was able to do so much with the lava and red-hot cinders, which were the only elements that it possessed, what will it not be able to do with all that it will end by possessing?
It is well, sometimes, to tell ourselves, especially in these days of distress and discouragement, that we are living in a world which has not yet exhausted its future and which is much nearer to its beginning than to its end. It was born but yesterday, and has only just disentangled its original chaos. It is at the starting-point of its hopes and of its experience. We believe that it is making for death, whereas all its past, on the contrary, shows that it is much mote probably making for life. In any case, as its years pass by, the quantity, and still more the quality; of the life which it engenders and maintains tend to increase and to improve. It has given us only the first-fruits of its miracles; and in all likelihood there is no more connection between what it was and what it is than there will be between what it is and what it will be. No doubt, when its greatest marvels burst into being, we shall no longer, possess the lives which we possess to-day, but we shall still be there under another form; we shall still be exiging somewhere, on its surface or in its depths, and it is not utterly improbable that one of its last prodigies will reach us in our dust, awaken us, and recall us to life, in order to impart to, us the share of happiness which we had not enjoyed and to teach us that we were wrong not to interest ourselves, on the further side of our graves, in the destiny of this earth of ours, whereof we had never ceased to be the immortal offspring.
The Future of the Earth by Maurice Maeterlinck, Cosmopolitan, March 1918. Illustration The Earth with the Milky Way and Moon by Wladyslaw T. Benda.