Page images

tain, where the proprietor of the farm urged them to accept him for their guide, he being acquainted with the country all around the volcano, though he had never actually reached even its foot. The whole of the inhabitants who reside in the neighborhood consider it as the height of temerity for any one to endeavour to climb the mountain: in order, therefore, to deter these gentlemen from being rash enough to make the attempt, they represented a variety of supernatural obstacles, which, having, from time immemorial, been handed down from father to son, were perhaps as devoutly believed as they were seriously related, telling, among other things that were also urged to me, how Hecla is guarded by a number of strange black birds resembling crows, but armed with beaks of iron, with which they would receive in a very ungracious manner any man that might presume to infringe upon their territory. The country for two leagues around Hecla they found wholly destitute of vegetation, the soil consisting of scoria, pumice, and red and black cinders, which, by the breaking out of the subterraneous fires, were here and there raised •

into numerous little hills and eminences, increasing in size the nearer they approached the mountain. The principal one, which is called Raud-oldur *, is of an oblong form, with an opening in its summit of an hundred and forty-four feet in depth, and eight hundred and forty feet in circumference: it consists entirely of small red shining stones, that have evidently been in a state of liquefaction. On reaching Hecla, the difficulty of proceeding was increased, especially when it became necessary to travel over the heaps of lava that have flowed from the volcano, and formed round the base of the mountain a sort of rampart from forty to seventy feet in height, consisting of masses

* " We arrived (September 24, 1772) at a green spot under Graufel-hraun where we pitched our tents and proceeded to a crater which has an opening of half a mile in circumference, but its western side is destroyed by the eruption. The hraun lies as if it came from this crater, and the tufa and ashes which formerly made a part of its western side are still seen among it. The lower part and remaining walls are composed of nothing but ashes, cinders, and pieces of lava in various states. Its name is Rod-Oldur.—The scene of desolation all around is almost inconceivable."—Sir Joseph Banks' Manuscript Journal.

of melted stone. In this spot, which appears to be the place alluded to by Von Troil, where he speaks of the hill as being surrounded with lofty glazed walls, and filled with high glazed cliffs not to be compared to any thing he ever saw before, our travellers found it necessary to leave their horses; and their guide, under the pretence that he was suddenly attacked with a head-ache, excused himself from attending them farther on their journey. The ridge of lava was climbed with extreme difficulty, for the stones of which it was composed lay detached, and there were so many deep holes between them, that it was necessary to use the greatest caution in walking to prevent accidents. The ground shortly after becoming more solid, their road was consequently materially improved, and they began their ascent on the western side, where the continual cracking of the rock under their feet at first caused them some uneasiness, till, upon more attentive observation, they found that the whole mountain itself was reduced to a mere pumice-stone, lying in horizontal strata of moderate thickness, every where full of fissures; and hence, the}' observe, may be formed some idea of the intensity of the fire, whereby an immense mountain has been so far consumed that all the rocks which compose it will crumble into ashes, if the volcano that has produced such an effect should again for a while resume its operations. Contrary to their expectations, they continued to ascend without meeting with any obstacle, passing over a continued series of sloping terraces, of which they reckoned seven before they reached the summit. The sides of the hill they found from top to bottom deeply scarred with ravines formed originally by the torrents of lava, but now serving as beds for the winter cataracts. Among other curious minerals that they met with on their way, they gathered some that they considered as decisive of the fact of Hecla having occasionally thrown out water* as well as fire; and they

* The discharge of water from volcanoes, as well as fire, is by no means unusual. Sir William Hamilton, who most ingeniously endeavors to account for some of the most striking appearances of the globe from this circumstance, considers the water as merely rain that has been deposited in the caverns, contrary, as he says, to the generally received opinion that it arises from a connection between the mountains and the sea. He menVOL. 1I. I

are from this led to notice an extraordinary matter, of which they do not appear themselves to have seen any symptoms, that so great a quantity of salt * has been found

tions (Campi Phlegrœi, p. 2~J on this subject, that "it is well attested, that in the great eruption of Vesuvius, A. D. 1631, several towns, among which were Portici and Torre del Greco, were destroyed by a torrent of boiling water having burst out of the mountain with the lava, by which thousands of lives were lost."

* This, as they say, (torn. iii. p. 35.) "ne contribue pas peu à confirmer V opinion de la connexion probable entre la mer et les volcans, tant de ceux qui vomissent des matières embraseés, que de ceux qui vomissent de l'eau alternativement. On peut raisonnablement présumer ces communications entre la mer, les volcans, et les glaciers de la partie orientale, en raison de leur proximité de la mer et la profondeur de leurs racines; ces montagnes vomissent en effet une bien plus grande quantité d'eau que la fonte des glaces ne pourrait produire, et on a même remarqué un goût salin â leurs eaux. On objectera peut-être, â l'égard du mont Hecla, qu'il peut se trouver dans ses entrailles quantité de sel de roche; mais ses entrailles vont jusqu'au niveau de la mer; d'ailleurs indépendamment de l'opinion généralement accréditée de tant de sa vans de tous les pays, de la connexion secrète qu'il y a entre l'Etna en Sicile et l'Hecla, puisque ces deux volcans ont si souvent brûlés en même temps, on verra nombre d'exemples curieux qui prouvent la sympathie qu'il y a entre l'Hecla, lors

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »