« PreviousContinue »
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. so 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 Hamilton upon a former occasion, and proposed crossing ima mediately 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 source. 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, exhibiting matter in the most perfect fusion, running like liquid silver down the side of the mountain. In its
bout Fehe arched in began a darker teness; beega
progress downwards, and as soon as the air began to act upon it, the superficies lost its whiteness; becoming first red, and afterwards of a darker hue, until, lower down, black scoriæ began to form upon its surface. Above the arched chasm, there was a natural chimney, about four feet in height, throwing up occasionally stones, attended with detonations. The author approached near enough to this aperture to gather from the lips of it some incrustations of pure sulphur, the fumes of which were so suffocating, that it was with dif. ficulty and only at intervals a sight could be obtained of what was passing below. It was evident, however, that the current of lava, with the same indescribable splendour, was flowing rapidly at the bottom of this chimney towards the mouth of the chasm; and, had it not been for this vent, it is probable the party now mentioned could never have been able to approach so nearly as they had done to the source of the lava. The eruptions from the crater increased with such violence, that it was necessary to use all possible expedition in making the remaining observations.
“The eruptions from the crater were now without in. termission, and the danger of remaining any longer near this place was alarmingly conspicuous. A huge mass, cast to an immense height in the air, seemed to be falling in a direction so fatally perpendicular, that there was not one of the party present who did not expect to be crushed by it; fortunately it fell beyond the spot on which they stood, where it was shattered into a thousand pieces; and these rolling onwards, were carried with great velocity into the valley below.”
“ In these and other descriptions," resumed Egeria, “ if the pleasure arises from the contemplation of the exercise of power, what shall we say of those narratives of which the subjects are the enormities of man? Miot's account, for example, of the massacre of the Turks at Jaffa by Buonaparte, is neither so vigorously written in the original, nor so susceptible of vigour in any translation, as to awaken pleasurable emotions, in so far as the power of the author is concerned, and yet the vastness of the crime makes the impression almost as awful as that of many descriptions which are considered and felt to be sublime. Let me read it to you."
.“ Here it is that I must make a most painful recital. The frankness, I will venture to say the candour, which may be observed in these memoirs, make it a duty that I should not pass over in silence the event which I am about to relate, and of which I was witness. If I have pledged myself in writing this work not to judge the actions of the man who will be judged by posterity, I have also pledged myself to reveal every thing which may enlighten opinion concerning him. It is just, therefore, that I should repeat the motives which were enforced at the time, to authorise a determination so cruel as that which decided the fate of the prisoners at Jaffa. Behold then the considerations which seem to have provoked it.
“ The army, already weakened by its loss at the sieges of El Arish and of Jaffa, was still more so by diseases, whose ravages became from day to day more alarming. It had great difficulties in maintaining itself, and the soldier rarely received his full ration. This difficulty of subsistence would augment in consequence of the evil disposition of the inhabitants towards us. To feed the Jaffa prisoners while we kept them with us, was not only to increase our wantsy but also constantly