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great antagonist forces; the entrance, on the one • hand, of 4 river.draising a large continent, and on the other, the flux and reflux of the tide, aided by a strong çurrent. : But when we pass over by the Straits of Dover to the continent, and proceed northwards, we find an admirable illustration of such a contest, where the Rhine and the ocean are opposed to each other, each disputing the ground now occupied by Holland; the one striving to shape out an estuary, the other to form a delta. There was evidently a period when the river obtained the ascendency, when the shape of the coast and set of the tides were probably very different, but for the last two thousand years, during which man has witnessed and actively participated in the struggle, the result has been in favour of the ocean, the area of the whole territory having become more and more circumscribed; natural and artificial barriers having given way, one after another, and
hundred thousand human beings having perished in the waves.
Changes in the arms of the Rhine. The Rhine, after flowing from the Grison Alps, copiously charged with sediment, first purges itself in the Lake of Constance, where a large delta is formed; then, swelled by the Aar and numerous other tributaries, it flows for more than six hundred miles towards the north : when, entering a low tract, it divides into two arms, not far north of Cleves. a point which must therefore be considered the head of its delta. In speaking of the delta I do not mean to assume that all that part of Holland which is comprised within the several arms of the Rhine can be called a delta in the strictest sense of the term; because some portion of the country thus circumscribed, as, for example, a part of Gelderland, consists of tertiary strata which may have been deposited in
the sea before the Rhine existed. These tertiary tracts may either have been raised like the Ullah Bund in Cutch *, during the period when the sediment of the Rhine was converting a part of the sea into land, or they may have constituted islands previously. When the river divides at Cleves, the left arm takes the name of the Waal, and the right, retaining that of the Rhine, sends off another branch to the left, called the Leck, and, still lower down, another named the Yssel. After this last division, the smallest stream, still called the Rhine, passes by Utrecht, and loses itself in the sands before reaching the German Sea, a few miles below Leyden. It is common, in all great deltas, that the principal channels of discharge should shift from time to time; but in Holland so many magnificent canals have been constructed, and have so diverted, from time to time, the course of the waters, that the geographical changes in this delta are endless, and their history, since the Roman era, forms a complicated topic of antiquarian research. The present head of the delta is about forty geographical miles from the nearest part of the gulf called the Zuyder Zee, and more than twice that distance from the general coast-line. The present head of the Nilotic delta is about eighty or ninety geographical miles from the sea ; that of the Ganges, as we before stated, two hundred and twenty; and that of the Mississippi about one hundred and eighty, reckoning from the point where the Atchafalaya branches off, to the extremity of the new tongue of land in the Gulf of Mexico. But the comparative distance between the heads of deltas and the sea affords scarcely any data for estimating the relative magnitude of the all uvial tracts formed by their respective rivers. For the ramifications depend on many varying and temporary circumstances, and the area over which they extend does not hold any constant proportion to the volume of water in the river. We may
* See Book II. part ii.
consider the Rhine, at present, as having three mouths, – the southernmost or left arm being the Waal ; the Leck, the largest of the three, being in the centre; and the Yssel forming the right or northern arm. As the whole coast to the south, as far as Ostend, and on the north, to the entrance of the Baltic has, with few exceptions, from time immemorial, yielded to the force of the waves, it is evident that the delta of the Rhine, if it had advanced, would have become extremely prominent, and even if it had remained stationary, would long ere this have projected, (like that strip of land already described, at the mouth of the Mississippi, far beyond the rounded outline of the coast. But we find, on the contrary, that the islands which skirt the coast have not only lessened in size, but in number also, while great bays have been formed in the interior by incursions of the sea.
I shall confine myself to the enumeration of some of the leading facts, in confirmation of these views, and begin with the southernmost part of the delta, where the Waal enters, which is at present united with the Meuse, in the same manner as an arm of the Po, before mentioned, has become confluent with the Adige. The Meuse itself had once a common embouchure with the Scheldt, by Sluys and Ostburg, but this channel was afterwards sanded up, as were many. others between Walcheren, Beveland, and other isles, at the mouths of these rivers. The new accessions
were almost all within the coast line, and were far more than counterbalanced by inroads of the sea, whereby large tracts of land, and dunes of blown sand, together with towns and villages, were swept away between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Besides parts of Walcheren, Beveland, and several populous districts in Kadzand, the island Orisant was in the year 1658 entirely annihilated.
Inroads of the sea in Holland. One of the most memorable irruptions occurred in 1421, where the tide, pouring into the mouth of the united Meuse and Waal, burst through a dam in the district named Bergse-Veld, and overflowed twenty two villages, forming that large sheet of water called the Bies Bosch. No vestige even of the ruins of these places could ever afterwards be seen, but a small portion of the new bay became afterwards silted up, and formed an island. The Leck, or central arm of the Rhine, which enters the sea a little to the north of this new estuary, has, at present, a communication with it. The island Grunewert, which in the year 1228 existed not far from Houten, has been entirely destroyed. Farther to the north is a long line of shore covered with sand dunes, where great depredations have been made from time to time. The church of Scheveningen, not far from the Hague, was once in the middle of the village, and now stands on the shore; half the place having been overwhelmed by the waves in 1570. Catwyck, once far from the sea,
the shore; two of its streets having been overflowed, and land torn away to the extent of two hundred yards in 1719. It is only by aid of embankments, that Petten, and several other places farther north, have been defended against the sea.
Formation of the Zuyder Zee and Straits of Staveren.
Still more important are the changes which have taken place on the coast opposite the right arm of the Rhine, or the Yssel, where the ocean has burst through a large isthmus, and entered the inland lake Flevo, which, in ancient times, was, according to Pomponius Mela, formed by the overflowing of the Rhine over certain low lands. It appears that, in the time of Tacitus, there were several lakes in the present site of the Zuyder Zee, between Friesland and Holland. The successive inroads by which these, and a great part of the adjoining territory, were transformed into a great gulf, began about the commencement, and were completed towards the close of the thirteenth century. Alting gives the following relation of the occurrence, drawn from manuscript documents of contemporary inhabitants of the neighbouring provinces. In the year 1205, the island now called Wieringen, to the south of the Texel, was still a part of the mainland, but during several high floods, of which the dates are given, ending in December, 1251, it was separated from the continent. By subsequent incursions, the sea consumed great parts of the rich and populous isthmus, a low tract which stretched on the north of Lake Flevo, between Staveren in Friesland, and Medemblick in Holland, till at length a breach was completed about the year 1282, and afterwards widened. Great destruction of land took place when the sea first broke in, and many towns were swept away ; but there was afterwards a reaction to a certain extent, large tracts at first submerged having been gradually redeemed. The new straits south of Staveren are more than half the width of those of Dover, but are very shallow, the greatest depth not exceeding two or three fathoms. The new