« PreviousContinue »
unhappy persons, who, dangerously wounded, perished several months after for want of food and proper care. The night of Holy Thursday presented the most distressing scene of desolation and sorrow. That thick cloud of dust, which, rising above the ruins, darkened the sky like a fog, had settled on the ground. No shock was felt, and never was a night more calm or more serene. The moon, nearly full, illumined the rounded domes of the Silla, and the aspect of the sky formed a perfect contrast to that of the earth, covered with the dead and heaped with ruins. Mothers were seen bearing in their arms their children, whom they hoped to recall to life. Desolate families wandered through the city seeking a brother, a husband, a friend, of whose fate they were ignorant, and whom they believed to be lost in the crowd. The people pressed along the streets, which could no more be recognised but by long lines of ruins.
“ All the calamities experienced in the great catastrophes of Lisbon, Messina, Lima, and Riobamba, were renewed on the fatal day of the 26th of March 1812. The wounded, buried under the ruins, implored by their cries the help of the passers-by, and nearly two thousand were dug out. Never was pity displayed in a more affecting manner ; never had it been seen more ingeniously active, than in the efforts employed to save the miserable victims, whose groans reached the ear. Implements for digging and clearing away the ruins were entirely wanting ; and the people were obliged to use their bare hands to disinter the living. The wounded, as well as the sick who had escaped from the hospitals, were laid on the banks of the small river Guayra. They found no shelter but the foliage of trees. Beds, linen to dress the wounds, instruments of surgery, medicines, and objects of the most urgent necessity, were buried under the ruins. Every thing, even food, was wanting during the first days. Water became alike scarce in the interior of the city. The commotion had rent the pipes of the fountains; the falling in of the earth had choak. ed up the springs that supplied them; and it became necessary, in order to have water, to go down to the river Guayra, which was considerably swelled ; and then vessels to convey the water were wanting.
“ There remained a duty to be fulfilled toward the dead, enjoined at once by piety and the dread of infection. It being impossible to inter so many thousand corpses, half-buried under the ruins, commissaries were appointed to burn the bodies; and for this purpose funeral piles were erected between the heaps of ruins. This ceremony lasted several days. Amid so many public calamities, the people devoted themselves to those religious duties, which they thought were the most fitted to appease the wrath of Heaven. Some, assembling in processions, sang funeral hymns; others, in a state of distraction, confessed themselves aloud in the streets. In this town was now repeated, what had been remarked in the province of Quito after the tremendous earthquake of 1797 ;-a number of marriages were contracted, between persons who had neglected for many years to sanction their union by the sacerdotal benediction; children found parents, by whom they had never till then been acknowledged; restitutions were promised by persons who had never been accused of fraud; and families, who had long been enemies, were drawn together by the tie of common calamity.”
“Doubtless," said the Bachelor, “in that description of De Humboldt many things give us pleasure which reasonably ought not to do so; but does it not arise from the satisfaction that we derive from the contemplation of the vast power exerted to produce such appalling effects ?”
“ Yes," replied Egeria, “ I think you are right. Man is naturally a power-worshipping creature, and he enjoys the very highest degree of delight from the contemplation of power in action, where neither danger nor suffering is visible. Dr Clarke's description of the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, in the year 1793, is an instance of this. The passage is vigorously and even sublimely written. In so far, from the power displayed by the author, it necessarily affords pleasure ; but the main source of enjoyment unquestionably arises from the vastness of the power of the element that causes the phenomenon described.”
A VOLCANO. “Upon proceeding up the cone of Vesuvius, the party found the crater at the summit, in a very active state, throwing out volleys of immense stones translucent with vitrification, and such heavy showers of ashes, involved in dense sulphureous clouds, as to render any approach to it extremely dangerous. The party ascended, however, as near to the summit as possible; then crossing over to the side whence the lava was issuing, they reached the bed of the torrent, and attempted to ascend by the side of it to its source. This they soon found to be impossible, owing to an unfortunate change of wind; in
consequence of which, all the smoke of the lava came hot upon them, accompanied at the same time with so thick a mist of minute ashes from the crater, and such suffocating fumes of sulphur, that they knew not what course to steer. In this perplexity, the author called to mind an expedient recommended by Sir William Hamil. ton upon a former occasion, and proposed crossing immediately the current of the flowing lava, with a view to gain its windward side. All his companions were against this measure, owing to the very liquid appear
ance the lava then had so near its source; but while they stood deliberating what was to be done, immense fragments of rocks that had been ejected from the crater, and huge volcanic bombs, which the smoke had prevented their observing, fell thick among them ; vast masses of slag and of other matter, rolling upon their edges like enormous wheels, passed by them with a force and velocity sufficient to crush every one of the party to atoms, if directed to the spot where they all stood huddled together. There was not a moment to be lost; the author, therefore, covering his face with his hat, descended the high bank beneath which the lava ran, and rushing upon the surface of the melted matter, reached the opposite side, having only his boots burned, and his hands somewhat scorched. Here he saw clearly the whole of the danger to which his friends were exposed : the noise was such as almost prevented his being heard; but he endeavoured, by calling and by gestures, to persuade them to follow. Vast rocks of indurated lava from the crater were bounding by them, and others falling, that would have overwhelmed a citadel. Not one of the party would stir ; not even the guides accustomed for hire to conduct persons over the mountain. At last he had the satisfaction to see them descend, and endeavour to cross the torrent somewhat lower down, where the lava from its redness appeared to be less liquid, and where the stream was narrower. In fact, the narrowness of the stream deceived them : the current had divided into two branches; in the midst of which was an island, if such it might be called, surrounded by liquid fire. They crossed over the first stream in safety ; but being a good deal scorched upon the island, they attempted the passage of the second branch ; in doing which, one of the guides, laden with torches and other things, fell down and was terribly burned.
Being now all on the windward side, they continued their ascent; the bellowings, belchings, and explosions, as of cannon, evidently not from the crater, (which sent forth one uniform roaring and deafening noise) convinced them they were now not far from the
The lava appeared whiter and whiter as they advanced, owing to its intense heat; and in about half an hour they reached the chasm through which the melted matter had opened itself a passage. It was a narrow fissure in the solid lava of the cone. The sides, smooth, compact, and destitute of that porous appearance which the superficies of lava exhibits when it is cooled under exposure to atmospheric air, resembled the most solid trap or basalt. To describe the rest of the spectacle here displayed is utterly beyond all human ability; the author can only appeal to those who participated the astonishment he felt upon that occasion, and to the sensations which they experienced in common with him, the remembrance of which can only be obliterated with their lives. All he had previously seen of volcanic phenomena, had not prepared him for what he then beheld. He had often witnessed the rivers of lava, after their descent into the valley between Somma and Vesuvius; they resembled moving heaps of scoriæ falling over one another with a rattling noise, which, in their further progress, carried ruin and devastation into the plains. But from the centre of this arched chasm, and along a channel cut finer than art can imitate, beamed the most intense light, radiating with such ineffable lustre, that the eye could only contemplate it for one instant, and by successive glances.—While, issuing with the velocity of a flood, and accompanied with a rushing wind, this light itself, in milder splendour, seemed to melt
away into a translucent and vivid stream, exhibite ing matter in the most perfect fusion, running like liquid silver down the side of the mountain. In its