Home  |  Authors  |  Books  |  Stories  |  What's New  |  How to Get Involved 
   T h e   B a l d w i n   P r o j e c t
     Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children                 @mainlesson.com
Search This Site Only
 
 
Madam How and Lady Why by  Charles Kingsley

[Illustration] Hundreds of additional titles available for online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics

Learn More
[Illustration]

 

 

EARTHQUAKES

[33]

S
O you have been looking at that beautiful drawing of the ruin of Arica in the "Illustrated London News:" and it has puzzled you and made you sad. You want to know why God killed all those people—mothers among them, too, and little children?

Alas, my dear child! who am I that I should answer you that?


[Illustration]

ARICA AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE

Have you done wrong in asking me? No, my dear child; no. You have asked me because you are a human being and a child of God, and not merely a cleverer sort of animal, an ape who can read and write and cast accounts. Therefore it is that you cannot be content, and ought not to be content, with asking how things happen, but must go on to ask why. You cannot be content with knowing the causes of things; and if you knew all the natural science that ever was or ever will be known to men, that would not satisfy you; for it would only tell you the causes  of things, while your souls want to know [34] the reasons  of things besides; and though I may not be able to tell you the reasons of things, or show you aught but a tiny glimpse here and there of that which I called the other day the glory of Lady Why, yet I believe that somehow, somewhen, somewhere, you will learn something of the reason of things. For that thirst to know why  was put into the hearts of little children by God Himself; and I believe that God would never have given them that thirst if He had not meant to satisfy it.

There—you do not understand me. I trust that you will understand me some day. Meanwhile, I think—I only say I think—you know I told you how humble we must be whenever we speak of Lady Why—that we may guess at something like a good reason for the terrible earthquakes in South America. I do not wish to be hard upon poor people in great affliction: but I cannot help thinking that they have been doing for hundreds of years past something very like what the Bible calls "tempting God"—staking their property and their lives upon the chances of no earthquakes coming, while they ought to have known that an earthquake might come any day. They have fulfilled (and little thought I that it would be fulfilled so soon) the parable that I told you once, of the nation of the Do-as-you-likes, who lived careless and happy at the foot of the burning mountain, and would not be warned by the smoke that came out of [35] the top, or by the slag and cinders which lay all about them; till the mountain blew up, and destroyed them miserably.

Then I think that they ought to have expected an earthquake?

Well—it is not for us to judge any one, especially if they live in a part of the world in which we have not been ourselves. But I think that we know, and that they ought to have known, enough about earthquakes to have been more prudent than they have been for many a year. At least we will hope that, though they would not learn their lesson till this year, they will learn it now, and will listen to the message which I think Madam How has brought them, spoken in a voice of thunder, and written in letters of flame.

And what is that?

My dear child, if the landlord of our house was in the habit of pulling the roof down upon our heads, and putting gunpowder under the foundations to blow us up, do you not think we should know what he meant, even though he never spoke a word? He would be very wrong in behaving so, of course: but one thing would be certain,—that he did not intend us to live in his house any longer if he could help it; and was giving us, in a very rough fashion, notice to quit. And so it seems to me that these poor Spanish Americans have received from the Landlord of all [36] landlords, who can do no wrong, such a notice to quit as perhaps no people ever had before; which says to them in unmistakeable words, "You must leave this country: or perish." And I believe that that message, like all Lady Why's messages, is at heart a merciful and loving one; that if these Spaniards would leave the western coast of Peru, and cross the Andes into the green forests of the eastern side of their own land, they might not only live free from earthquakes, but (if they would only be good and industrious) become a great, rich, and happy nation, instead of the idle, and useless, and I am afraid not over good, people which they have been. For in that eastern part of their own land God's gifts are waiting for them, in a paradise such as I can neither describe nor you conceive;—precious woods, fruits, drugs, and what not—boundless wealth, in one word—waiting for them to send it all down the waters of the mighty river Amazon, enriching us here in the Old World, and enriching themselves there in the New. If they would only go and use these gifts of God, instead of neglecting them as they have been doing for now three hundred years, they would be a blessing to the earth, instead of being—that which they have been.

God grant, my dear child, that these poor people may take the warning that has been sent to them; "The voice of God revealed in facts," as the great [37] Lord Bacon would have called it, and see not only that God has bidden them leave the place where they are now, but has prepared for them, in their own land, a home a thousand times better than that in which they now live.

But you ask, How ought they to have known that an earthquake would come?

Well, to make you understand that, we must talk a little about earthquakes, and what makes them; and in order to find out that, let us try the very simplest cause of which we can think. That is the wise and scientific plan.

Now, whatever makes these earthquakes must be enormously strong; that is certain. And what is the strongest thing you know of in the world? Think. . . . . . . .

Gunpowder?

Well, gunpowder is strong sometimes: but not always. You may carry it in a flask, or in your hand, and then it is weak enough. It only becomes strong by being turned into gas and steam. But steam is always strong. And if you look at a railway engine, still more if you had ever seen—which God forbid you should—a boiler explosion, you would agree with me, that the strongest thing we know of in the world is steam.

Now I think that we can explain almost, if not quite, all that we know about earthquakes, if we [38] believe that on the whole they are caused by steam and other gases expanding, that is, spreading out, with wonderful quickness and strength. Of course there must be something to make them expand, and that is heat.  But we will not talk of that yet.

Now do you remember that riddle which I put to you the other day?—"What had the rattling of the lid of the kettle to do with Hartford Bridge Flat being lifted out of the ancient sea?"

The answer to the riddle, I believe, is—Steam has done both. The lid of the kettle rattles, because the expanding steam escapes in little jets, and so causes a lid-quake. Now suppose that there was steam under the earth trying to escape, and the earth in one place was loose and yet hard, as the lid of the kettle is loose and yet hard, with cracks in it, it may be, like the crack between the edge of the lid and the edge of the kettle itself: might not the steam try to escape through the cracks, and rattle the surface of the earth, and so cause an earth-quake?

So the steam would escape generally easily, and would only make a passing rattle, like the earthquake of which the famous jester Charles Selwyn said, that it was quite a young one, so tame that you might have stroked it; like that which I myself once felt in the Pyrenees, which gave me very solemn thoughts after a while, though at first I did nothing but laugh at it; and I will tell you why.

[39] I was travelling in the Pyrenees; and I came one evening to the loveliest spot; a glen, or rather a vast crack, in the mountains, so narrow that there was no room for anything at the bottom of it, save a torrent roaring between walls of polished rock. High above the torrent the road was cut out among the cliffs, and above the road rose more cliffs, with great black cavern mouths, hundreds of feet above our heads, out of each of which poured in foaming waterfalls streams large enough to turn a mill, and above them mountains piled on mountains, all covered with woods of box, which smelt rich and hot and musky in the warm spring air. Among the box-trees and fallen boulders grew hepaticas, blue and white and red, such as you see in the garden; and little stars of gentian, more azure than the azure sky. But out of the box-woods above rose giant silver firs, clothing the cliffs and glens with tall black spires, till they stood out at last in a jagged saw-edge against the purple evening sky, along the mountain ranges, thousands of feet aloft; and beyond them again, at the head of the valley, rose vast cones of virgin snow, miles away in reality, but looking so brilliant and so near that one fancied at the first moment that one could have touched them with one's hand. Snow-white they stood, the glorious things, seven thousand feet into the air; and I watched their beautiful white sides turn rose-colour in the evening sun, and, when [40] he set, fade into dull cold grey, till the bright moon came out to light them up once more. When I was tired of wondering and admiring, I went into bed; and there I had a dream—such a dream as Alice had when she went into Wonderland—such a dream as I dare say you may have had ere now. Some noise or stir puts into your fancy as you sleep a whole long dream to account for it; and yet that dream, which seems to you to be hours long, has not taken up a second of time; for the very same noise which begins the dream, wakes you at the end of it: and so it was with me. I dreamed that some English people had come into the hotel where I was, and were sleeping in the room underneath me; and that they had quarrelled and fought, and broke their bed down with a tremendous crash, and that I must get up, and stop the fight; and at that moment I woke, and heard coming up the valley from the north such a roar as I never heard before or since; as if a hundred railway trains were rolling underground; and just as it passed under my bed there was a tremendous thump, and I jumped out of bed quicker than I ever did in my life, and heard the roaring sound die away as it rolled up the valley towards the peaks of snow. Still I had in my head this notion of the Englishmen fighting in the room below. But then I recollected that no Englishmen had come in the night before, and that I had been in the room below, [41] and that there was no bed in it. Then I opened my window—a woman screamed, a dog barked, some cocks and hens cackled in a very disturbed humour, and then I could hear nothing but the roaring of the torrent a hundred feet below. And then it flashed across me what all the noise was about; and I burst out laughing and said, "It is only an earthquake," and went to bed again.

Next morning I inquired whether any one had heard a noise. No, nobody had heard anything. And the driver who had brought me up the valley only winked, but did not choose to speak. At last at breakfast I asked the pretty little maid who waited what was the meaning of the noise I heard in the night, and she answered, to my intense amusement, "Ah! bah! ce n'était qu'un tremblement de terre; il y en a ici toutes les six semaines." Now the secret was out. The little maid, I found, came from the lowland far away, and did not mind telling the truth: but the good people of the place were afraid to let out that they had earthquakes every six weeks, for fear of frightening visitors away: and because they were really very good people, and very kind to me, I shall not tell you what the name of the place is.

Of course after that I could do no less than ask Madam How, very civilly, how she made earthquakes in that particular place, hundreds of miles away from [42] any burning mountain? And this was the answer I thought  she gave, though I am not so conceited as to say I am sure.

As I had come up the valley I had seen that the cliffs were all beautiful grey limestone marble; but just at this place they were replaced by granite, such as you may see in London Bridge or at Aberdeen. I do not mean that the limestone changed to granite, but that the granite had risen up out of the bottom of the valley, and had carried the limestone (I suppose) up on its back hundreds of feet into the air. Those caves with the waterfalls pouring from their mouths were all on one level, at the top of the granite, and the bottom of the limestone. That was to be expected; for, as I will explain to you some day, water can make caves easily in limestone: but never, I think, in granite. But I knew that beside these cold springs which came out of the caves, there were hot springs also, full of curious chemical salts, just below the very house where I was in. And when I went to look at them, I found that they came out of the rock just where the limestone and the granite joined. "Ah," I said, "now I think I have Madam How's answer. The lid of one of her great steam boilers is rather shaky and cracked just here, because the granite has broken and torn the limestone as it lifted it up; and here is the hot water out of the boiler actually oozing out of the crack; and the earthquake [43] I heard last night was simply the steam rumbling and thumping inside, and trying to get out."

And then, my dear child, I fell into a more serious mood. I said to myself, "If that stream had been a little, only a little stronger, or if the rock above it had been only a little weaker, it would have been no laughing matter then; the village might have been shaken to the ground; the rocks hurled into the torrent; jets of steam and of hot water, mixed, it may be, with deadly gases, have roared out of the riven ground; that might have happened here, in short, which has happened and happens still in a hundred places in the world, whenever the rocks are too weak to stand the pressure of the steam below, and the solid earth bursts as an engine boiler bursts when the steam within it is too strong." And when those thoughts came into my mind, I was in no humour to jest any more about "young earthquakes," or "Madam How's boilers;" but rather to say with the wise man of old, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed."

Most strange, but most terrible also, are the tricks which this underground steam plays. It will make the ground, which seems to us so hard and firm, roll and rock in waves, till people are sea-sick, as on board a ship; and that rocking motion (which is the most common) will often, when it is but slight, set the bells ringing in the steeples, or make the furniture, [44] and things on shelves, jump about quaintly enough. It will make trees bend to and fro, as if a wind was blowing through them; open doors suddenly, and shut them again with a slam; make the timbers of the floors and roofs creak, as they do in a ship at sea; or give men such frights as one of the dock-keepers at Liverpool got in the earthquake in 1863, when his watchbox rocked so, that he thought some one was going to pitch him over into the dock. But these are only little hints and warnings of what it can do. When it is strong enough, it will rock down houses and churches into heaps of ruins, or, if it leaves them standing, crack them from top to bottom, so that they must be pulled down and rebuilt.

You saw those pictures of the ruins of Arica, about which our talk began; and from them you can guess well enough for yourself what a town looks like which has been ruined by an earthquake. Of the misery and the horror which follow such a ruin I will not talk to you, nor darken your young spirit with sad thoughts which grown people must face, and ought to face. But the strangeness of some of the tricks which the earthquake shocks play is hardly to be explained, even by scientific men. Sometimes, it would seem, the force runs round, making the solid ground eddy, as water eddies in a brook. For it will make straight rows of trees crooked; it will twist whole walls round—or rather the ground on which [45] the walls stand—without throwing them down; it will shift the stones of a pillar one on the other sideways, as if a giant had been trying to spin it like a teetotum, and so screwed it half in pieces. There is a story told by a wise man, who saw the place himself, of the whole furniture of one house being hurled away by an earthquake, and buried under the ruins of another house; and of things carried hundreds of yards off, so that the neighbours went to law to settle who was the true owner of them. Sometimes, again, the shock seems to come neither horizontally in waves, nor circularly in eddies, but vertically, that is, straight up from below; and then things—and people, alas! sometimes—are thrown up off the earth high into the air, just as things spring up off the table if you strike it smartly enough underneath. By that same law (for there is a law for every sort of motion) it is that the earthquake shock sometimes hurls great rocks off a cliff into the valley below. The shock runs through the mountain till it comes to the cliff at the end of it; and then the face of the cliff, if it be at all loose, flies off into the air. You may see the very same thing happen, if you will put marbles or billiard-balls in a row touching each other, and strike the one nearest you smartly in the line of the row. All the balls stand still, except the last one, and that flies off. The shock, like the earthquake shock, has run through them all; but only [46] the end one, which had nothing beyond it but soft air, has been moved; and when you grow old, and learn mathematics, you will know the law of motion according to which that happens, and learn to apply what the billiard-balls have taught you, to explain the wonders of an earthquake. For in this case, as in so many more, you must watch Madam How at work on little and common things, to find out how she works in great and rare ones. That is why Solomon says that "a fool's eyes are in the ends of the earth," because he is always looking out for strange things which he has not seen, and which he could not understand if he saw: instead of looking at the petty commonplace matters which are about his feet all day long, and getting from them sound knowledge, and the art of getting more sound knowledge still.

Another terrible destruction which the earthquake brings, when it is close to the seaside, is the wash of a great sea wave, such as swept in last year upon the island of St. Thomas, in the West Indies; such as swept in upon the coast of Peru this year. The sea moans, and sinks back, leaving the shore dry; and then comes in from the offing a mighty wall of water, as high as, or higher than, many a tall house; sweeps far inland, washing away quays and houses, and carrying great ships in with it; and then sweeps back again, leaving the ships high and dry, as ships were left in Peru this year.

[47] Now, how is that wave made? Let us think. Perhaps in many ways. But two of them I will tell you as simply as I can, because they seem the most likely, and probably the most common.

Suppose, as the earthquake shock ran on, making the earth under the sea heave and fall in long earth-waves, the sea bottom sank down. Then the water on it would sink down too, and leave the shore dry; till the sea-bottom rose again, and hurled the water up again against the land. This is one way of explaining it, and it may be true. For certain it is, that earthquakes do move the bottom of the sea; and certain, too, that they move the water of the sea also, and with tremendous force. For ships at sea during an earthquake feel such a blow from it (though it does them no harm) that the sailors often rush upon deck, fancying that they have struck upon a rock; and the force which could give a ship, floating in water, such a blow as that, would be strong enough to hurl thousands of tons of water up the beach, and on to the land.

But there is another way of accounting for this great sea-wave, which I fancy comes true sometimes.

Suppose you put an empty india-rubber ball into water, and then blow into it through a pipe. Of course, you know as the ball filled, the upper side of it would rise out of the water. Now, suppose there were a party of little ants moving about upon that [48] ball, and fancying it a great island, or perhaps the whole world—what would they think of the ball's filling and growing bigger?

If they could see the sides of the basin or tub in which the ball was, and were sure that they did not move, then they would soon judge by them that they themselves were moving, and that the ball was rising out of the water. But if the ants were so short-sighted that they could not see the sides of the basin, they would be apt to make a mistake, because they would then be like men on an island out of sight of any other land. Then it would be impossible further to tell whether they were moving up, or whether the water was moving down; whether their ball was rising out of the water, or the water was sinking away from the ball. They would probably say, "The water is sinking, and leaving the ball dry."

Do you understand that? Then think what would happen if you pricked a hole in the ball. The air inside would come hissing out, and the ball would sink again into the water. But the ants would probably fancy the very opposite. Their little heads would be full of the notion that the ball was solid and could not move, just as our heads are full of the notion that the earth is solid and cannot move; and they would say, "Ah! here is the water rising again." Just so, I believe, when the sea seems to ebb away [49] during the earthquake, the land is really being raised out of the sea, hundreds of miles of coast, perhaps, or a whole island, at once, by the force of the steam and gas imprisoned under the ground. That steam stretches and strains the solid rocks below, till they can bear no more, and snap, and crack, with frightful roar and clang; then out of holes and chasms in the ground rush steam, gases—often foul and poisonous ones—hot water, mud, flame, strange stones—all signs that the great boiler down below has burst at last.

Then the strain is eased. The earth sinks together again, as the ball did when it was pricked; and sinks lower, perhaps, than it was before: and back rushes the sea, which the earth had thrust away while it rose, and sweeps in, destroying all before it.

Of course, there is a great deal more to be said about all this: but I have no time to tell you now. You will read it, I hope, for yourselves when you grow up, in the writings of far wiser men than I. Or perhaps you may feel for yourselves in foreign lands the actual shock of a great earthquake, or see its work fresh done around you. And if ever that happens, and you be preserved during the danger, you will learn for yourself, I trust, more about earthquakes than I can teach you, if you will only bear in mind the simple general rules for understanding the "how" of them which I have given you here.

[50] But you do not seem satisfied yet? What is it that you want to know?

Oh! There was an earthquake here in England the other night, while you were asleep; and that seems to you too near to be pleasant. Will there ever be earthquakes in England which will throw houses down, and bury people in the ruins?

My dear child, I think you may set your heart at rest upon that point. As far as the history of England goes back, and that is more than a thousand years, there is no account of any earthquake which has done any serious damage, or killed, I believe, a single human being. The little earthquakes which are sometimes felt in England run generally up one line of country, from Devonshire through Wales, and up the Severn valley into Cheshire and Lancashire, and the south-west of Scotland; and they are felt more smartly there, I believe, because the rocks are harder there than here, and more tossed about by earthquakes which happened ages and ages ago, long before man lived on the earth. I will show you the work of these earthquakes some day, in the tilting and twisting of the layers of rock, and in the cracks (faults, as they are called) which run through them in different directions. I showed you some once, if you recollect, in the chalk cliff at Ramsgate—two sets of cracks, sloping opposite ways, which I told you were made by two separate sets of earthquakes, [51] long, long ago, perhaps while the chalk was still at the bottom of a deep sea. But even in the rocky parts of England the earthquake-force seems to have all but died out. Perhaps the crust of the earth has become too thick and solid there to be much shaken by the gases and steam below. In this eastern part of England, meanwhile, there is but little chance that an earthquake will ever do much harm, because the ground here, for thousands of feet down, is not hard and rocky, but soft—sands, clays, chalk, and sands again; clays, soft limestones, and clays again—which all act as buffers to deaden the earthquake shocks, and deaden too, the earthquake noise.

And how?

Put your ear to one end of a soft bolster, and let some one hit the other end. You will hear hardly any noise, and will not feel the blow at all. Put your ear to one end of a hard piece of wood, and let some one hit the other. You will hear a smart tap; and perhaps feel a smart tap, too. When you are older, and learn the laws of sound, and of motion among the particles of bodies, you will know why. Meanwhile you may comfort yourself with the thought that Madam How has (doubtless by command of Lady Why) prepared a safe soft bed for this good people of Britain—not that they may lie and sleep on it, but work and till, plant and build and manufacture, and thrive in peace and comfort, we will trust and pray, [52] for many a hundred years to come. All that the steam inside the earth is likely to do to us, is to raise parts of this island (as Hartford Bridge Flats were raised, ages ago, out of the old icy sea) so slowly, probably, that no man can tell whether they are rising or not. Or again, the steam-power may be even now dying out under our island, and letting parts of it sink slowly into the sea, as some wise friends of mine think that the fens in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire are sinking now. I have shown you where that kind of work has gone on in Norfolk; how the brow of Sandringham Hill was once a sea-cliff, and Dersingham Bog at its foot a shallow sea; and therefore that the land has risen there. How, again, at Hunstanton Station there is a beach of sea-shells twenty feet above high-water mark, showing that the land has risen there likewise. And how, farther north again, at Brancaster, there are forests of oak, and fir, and alder, with their roots still in the soil, far below high-water mark, and only uncovered at low tide; which is a plain sign that there the land has sunk. You surely recollect the sunken forest at Brancaster, and the beautiful shells we picked up in its gullies, and the millions of live Pholases boring into the clay and peat which once was firm dry land, fed over by giant oxen, and giant stags likewise, and perhaps by the mammoth himself, the great woolly elephant whose teeth the fishermen dredge up [53] in the sea outside? You recollect that? Then remember that as that Norfolk shore has changed, so slowly but surely is the whole world changing around us. Hartford Bridge Flat here, for instance, how has it changed! Ages ago it was the gravelly bottom of a sea. Then the steam-power underground raised it up slowly, through long ages, till it became dry land. And ages hence, perhaps, it will have become a sea-bottom once more. Washed slowly by the rain, or sunk by the dying out of the steam-power underground, it will go down again to the place from whence it came. Seas will roll where we stand now, and new lands will rise where seas now roll. For all things on this earth, from the tiniest flower to the tallest mountain, change and change all day long. Every atom of matter moves perpetually; and nothing "continues in one stay." The solid-seeming earth on which you stand is but a heaving bubble, bursting ever and anon in this place and in that. Only above all, and through all, and with all, is One who does not move nor change, but is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. And on Him, my child, and not on this bubble of an earth, do you and I, and all mankind, depend.

But I have not yet told you why the Peruvians ought to have expected an earthquake. True. I will tell you another time.


 Table of Contents  |  Index  | Previous: The Glen  |  Next: Volcanos
Copyright (c) 2000-2017 Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.