The volume collects the lessons of terrestrial physics “given to an Institute of Noble Youth”, as the author points out in his introduction, to show the applications of physics to the “world physics scale”. The work was released posthumously, for the premature death of Secchi, in 1878, occurred while he was still correcting the drafts. It is also his last work, which in some respects represents, even in the “elementary” nature of the treatment, a synthesis of his vast and varied scientific experience. Despite being known more for his contributions in the field of Astrophysics – of which he is considered a father – and of meteorology, in his last work the Jesuit scientist shows all his mastery of terrestrial physics, a matter still straddling geology and geography, waiting to become modern geophysics, with the emergence in the successive decades of more and more sophisticated experimental methods and instrumentation.
In the introduction to the volume Secchi claims to be inspired by a consolidated international literature and in particular by a great local scientist of his time, the Rosminian Antonio Stoppani, considered the father of Italian geology. In the text there is the whole ecologist vision of Secchi about our planet, basically the most important for our life, towards which it is necessary first of all to turn the attention.
Completes the scientific work an appendix with two speeches about the greatness of creation, no less valuable than the previous treatment. In some respects this part of the volume gives us back the real scientific and human dimension of Secchi and its great communicative and informative capacity with an extraordinary balance between science and faith. Indeed, among the many surprising aspects of this reading is that the book seems written by a religious scientist, rather than by a clerical scientist, like Angelo Secchi was . It is thanks to his assistant Fr. Gaspare Stanislao Ferrari, if this appendix, the result of two conferences held by Secchi in 1876 and 1877, was published. In introducing them, Fr. Ferrari recalls how in these speeches, which Secchi was always reluctant to publish, the author deals with the same arguments of the most articulated previous discussion, covering them from a higher point of view and linking them “with the most important news unveiled to us by astronomical science, chemistry, and anthropology. ”
The index of the work is thus composed:
I – Overall appearance of the globe; II – Water work on the surface of the Earth; III – Circulation of water in the air; IV – Water circulation in the oceans; V – Water circulation in the interior of the Earth; VI – Volcanoes and volcanism; VII – Sedimentary soils – general principles of stratigraphic geology; – VIII about the azoic and protozoic soils; IX – Paleozoic Era; X – Mesozoic, or secondary; XI – Neozoic, or tertiary; XII – Glacial and Quaternary epoch; XIII – Anthropogenic or human epoch.
Appendix on the greatness of creation. Speeches: I – the greatness of creation in space and time; II – The greatness of creation in the constitutive combinations of the universe.
At least two translations of this work are known, in German (1885) and in Spanish (1886). The panel shown here reproduces a geological map of the Roman countryside carried out in 1870 by the naturalist and geologist Paolo Mantovani.