Page images
PDF
EPUB

§ xx.), and make the whole amount, including those totally destroyed, to be thirtythree. It will easily be conceived, that, in proportion as the air became more and more filled with ashes, sand, sulphur-dust, and the smoke and aqueous vapors arising from the burnt districts, it must likewise become more fetid and unwholesome; and, indeed, even intolerable to those who were afflicted with the asthma, who, at such a time, could scarcely draw their breath. The presence too, in the atmosphere, of this mass of extraneous particles, obstructed in some measure the light and warmth of the sun, and caused to prevail, even at the height of summer, a most piercing and unnatural cold; in addition to which, what was still more unseasonable, a heavy fall of snow took place on the 11th and 21st of June. It was however soon melted. Almost all the new eruptions were accompanied by* showers of hailstones, of an extraordinary size, equalling that of a sparrow's egg. These caused much damage and destruction to the grass, and nearly killed both men and cattle; but the mischief occasioned even by these was trifling, in comparison

V

of what was caused by the heavy rains *, which, mixing with the sand, ashes, and sulphur, that had before fallen in immense quantity, incrusted the fields with a kind of black coat, somewhat similar to ink, but thicker, which poisoned the grass, and rendered the water stinking and unfit for use. Even the rain itself, in descending, became impregnated with sulphur and ashes, which sorely affected the eyes, caused a giddiness in the head, and was attended with pain as often as it fell on the naked body. The sun, from the impurity of the

* " During one of the heavy falls of rain," it is stated by Holm that, " there was observed, at Drontheim and at other places in Norway, and also at Ferroe, an uncommon fall of sharp and salt rain, which was so penetrating, that it totally destroyed the leaves of the trees, and every vegetable it fell upon, by scorching them up and causing them to wither. At Ferroe, there fell a considerable quantity of ashes, sand, pumice, and brimstone, which covered the whole surface of the ground, whenever the wind blew from Iceland; and the distance between these two places, is at least eighty (Danish) miles. Ships that were sailing between Copenhagen and Norway, were frequently covered with ashes and brimstone, which, stuck to the sails, masts, and decks, besmearing theni all over with a black and pitchy matter."

air, lost his splendor, and was shorn of his beams: indeed, it was very seldom that he was at all visible; and, when he was so, he appeared as a ball of glowing metal. The smoke covered the whole face of the island * for weeks and months together, so that seamen could not get sight of the coast

* This dismal atmosphere was not confined to Iceland; an obscurity in the air, and an unusual redness of the sun, were remarked also in England. In a copy of Horrebow's History of Iceland, now before me, is the following marginal note written by Mr. Sparrow of Worlingham Hall, a gentleman to whom I am happy in thus having the opportunity of acknowledging the obligations I feel myself under, for the ready access he has granted me to his invaluable library, and especially for the use of some scarce works relative to Icelandic History.—" An eruption of Hecla (as it was for a long time supposed to be) broke out again in the spring of the year 1783. In the month of May, of that year, I was in Holland, where the sun appeared for a great length of time to be enveloped and obscured in a thick dry mist; the cause of which was not then known. About the end of the year, two very large and luminous meteors astonished the world; they took a south-westerly direction, and were seen, apparently at the same elevation, and nearly at the same point of time, in the eastern parts of England, and the southern parts of Europe. They were remarked about seven or eight o'clock in the evening, within, until they were close upon it; and in the hilly country the haze was so thick, that it almost entirely impeded the prospect. Such was the height to which, in the summer of 1783, the columns of smoke ascended, that they might be seen at the distance of thirty Danish (one hundred and twenty English) miles from the land, appearing like clouds in the air. The same thickness in the atmosphere continued until the middle of September in the same year; but, after that time, a prevalence of southerly winds happily brought with them a clearer air. It is remarkable, that in the summer of 17&3, these winds had always been attended with the finest weather, contrary to what might have been expected, that northerly winds would have been required, to drive to sea and disperse the smoke arising from the southern side of the country; but at this time, although it is not to be denied that the southerly winds necessarily

I think, six weeks of each other, and about the middle of November. They approached so near to the earth, that I remember hearing a servant say, he stooped as one passed over him, fearful of being struck by it. They went with amazing velocity, and were soon out of sight."

1

impelled the smoke from the volcano into the interior of the country, yet they nevertheless were accompanied by a clear air and fine weather. The cause of so remarkable a phaenomenon has been supposed to be a volcanic eruption arising from out of the sea, to the northward of Iceland, or, possibly, from the eastern bay of Greenland; since it has been observed, that the thickest darkness has uniformly been experienced, and the greatest quantity of ashes fallen, during the prevalence of northerly winds. How far this conjecture may or may not be well founded, I will not presume to say; for, although we see that some notice has been taken in the Berlin papers *, printed at Copenhagen, of a fire said to have arisen out of the sea, between Iceland and Greenland, yet that circumstance must for the present be reckoned among those which require farther confirmation. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge that it is not altogether destitute of probability; for, if the smoke which was spread over the country with northerly winds did not originate in a place

* For the year 1783, in No. 96, and others.

« PreviousContinue »