Acta eruditorum anno MDCXCIII
pp 40-42

Date: January 1693

Translated from the Latin

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[AE p40]

Protogaea, by author G. G. L.

An examination of things naturally situated in the region between the Harz mountains and the ocean has given occasion to this meditation.1 [AE p41] The author thinks that the globe has undergone much greater changes than is generally supposed. And he infers that the greatest part of its matter was burned by fire in the separation of light and darkness mentioned by Moses.2 And it is in this way that we should interpret the idea of those who think that opaque bodies, that is, the planets (which they think likely includes this earth) were formed from fixed or shining bodies, drawn out from spots like a crust [that forms] after a conflagration.3 And the crust is a kind of vitrification, and hence the base of the earth is glass,4 the fragments of which form the sands. From this, eventually all kinds of lands were formed by the mixing of salts and the circulation of waters and vapours. Further, the liquid thrown into the air by the force of the fires was afterward brought together again when the [earth's] crust cooled, in much the same way calcines attract moisture, and from this were formed lees, or (to use a term of chemistry) a kind of oil per deliquium5 which, in washing away the earth's burned surface, gives rise to a sea abounding in fixed salt. Accordingly, the divinely-inspired Moses asserted that in the beginning there was a separation of light and darkness,6 that is, of the active principle, namely fire, from the other, more passive principles; afterward, he [God] separated the water from the earth by dividing the different passive bodies by their degree of resistance, namely into liquids and solids. Moreover, the author believes that the sea once covered a great part of the earth that is now exposed, and that at one time it was on the high mountains until the earth's crust, which is hollow everywhere, bowed under its own weight and that of the waters, and perhaps an earthquake. Because of that, among the mountains there are inclined layers of ruins, often full of shells, glossopetrae,7 and other remains of the draining sea, all trapped in the mud (which then hardened). And he believes that the sea, although it rose up to the highest mountains, afterwards entered the interior of the abyss [of the earth] through cracks and crevasses, and that consequently a large part of the earth's surface was left dry again. To some extent, this is to be attributed not only to the universal deluge, but also to certain local inundations. Moreover, among the proofs of fire he has not only the fixed salt of the sea but also the numerous subterranean works of nature, whose effects, which resemble those of chemists' laboratories, should be attributed to fusion, sublimation, dissolution, and volcanic precipitation. And the sediments of the waters are revealed by their layers, which are distinct and mixed with objects brought from the sea or land; moreover, these objects even have the form of bodies hardened by a sort of crystallization. Nevertheless, there is need for caution when distinguishing the effects of fire and water, [AE p42] for nature sometimes manifests the same things by dry or damp methods: bodies that have cooled after fusion or sublimation take on a circular form no less than those which collect together after dissolution and precipitation.


1. In the 1680s, Leibniz attempted to develop pumps and windmills that would reduce the flooding at the Harz silver mines and thereby boost productivity. Between 1680 and 1686 he spent just over three years in the Harz mountains in pursuit of this venture, but due to a combination of factors, not least inclement weather, rising costs, and opposition from the mine workers, he was finally forced to admit failure and abandon the scheme. For further details, see Andre Wakefield, "Leibniz and the Wind Machines," Osiris 25/1 (2010), 171-88.
2. Leibniz is alluding here to Genesis 1.1-4: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness."
3. Leibniz is here alluding to Descartes, who outlined such a theory of the earth's origin in part IV of his Principles of Philosophy. See René Descartes, Principles of Philosophy, trans. Valentine Rodger Miller and Reese P. Miller (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1983), 181-182.
4. Leibniz made the same claim in his earlier "Hypothesis physica nova" [New Physical Hypothesis] (winter 1670/1671 (?)); see A VI 2, 227.
5. That is, by deliquesence, where moisture is absorbed from the air.
6. See note 2.
7. That is, sharks' teeth.

© Lloyd Strickland 2019