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Madam How and Lady Why by  Charles Kingsley

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VOLCANOS

[54]

Y
OU want to know why the Spaniards in Peru and Ecuador should have expected an earthquake.

Because they had had so many already. The shaking of the ground in their country had gone on perpetually, till they had almost ceased to care about it, always hoping that no very heavy shock would come; and being, now and then, terribly mistaken.

For instance, in the province of Quito, in the year 1797, from thirty to forty thousand people were killed at once by an earthquake. One would have thought that warning enough: but the warning was not taken: and now, this very year, thousands more have been killed in the very same country, in the very same way.

They might have expected as much. For their towns are built, most of them, close to volcanos— [55] some of the highest and most terrible in the world. And wherever there are volcanos there will be earthquakes. You may have earthquakes without volcanos, now and then; but volcanos without earthquakes, seldom or never.

How does that come to pass? Does a volcano make earthquakes? No; we may rather say that earthquakes are trying to make volcanos. For volcanos are the holes which the steam underground has burst open that it may escape into the air above. They are the chimneys of the great blast-furnaces underground, in which Madam How pounds and melts up the old rocks, to make them into new ones, and spread them out over the land above.

And are there many volcanos in the world? You have heard of Vesuvius, of course, in Italy; and Etna, in Sicily; and Hecla, in Iceland. And you have heard, too, of Kilauea, in the Sandwich Islands, and of Pele's Hair—the yellow threads of lava, like fine spun glass, which are blown from off its pools of fire, and which the Sandwich Islanders believed to be the hair of a goddess who lived in the crater;—and you have read, too, I hope, in Miss Yonge's "Book of Golden Deeds," the noble story of the Christian chieftainess who, in order to persuade her subjects to become Christians also, went down into the crater and defied the goddess of the volcano, and came back unhurt and triumphant.

But if you look at the map, you will see that there are many, many more. Get Keith Johnston's Physical Atlas from the schoolroom—of course it is there (for a schoolroom without a physical atlas is like a needle without an eye)—and look at the map which is called "Phenomena of Volcanic Action."

You will see in it many red dots, which mark the volcanos which are still burning: and black dots, which mark those which have been burning at some time or other, not very long ago, scattered about the world. Sometimes they are single, like the red dot at Otaheite, or at Easter Island in the Pacific. Sometimes they are in groups, or clusters, like the cluster at the Sandwich Islands, or in the Friendly Islands, or in New Zealand. And if we look in the Atlantic, we shall see four clusters: one in poor half-destroyed Iceland, in the far north, one in the Azores, one in the Canaries, and one in the Cape de Verds. And there is one dot in those Canaries which we must not overlook, for it is no other than the famous Peak of Teneriffe, a volcano which is hardly burnt out yet, and may burn up again any day, standing up out of the sea more than 12,000 feet high still, and once it must have been double that height. Some think that it is perhaps the true Mount Atlas, which the old Greeks named when first they ventured out of the Straits of Gibraltar down the coast of Africa, and saw the great peak far to the [57] westward, with the clouds cutting off its top; and said that it was a mighty giant, the brother of the Evening Star, who held up the sky upon his shoulders, in the midst of the Fortunate Islands, the gardens of the daughter of the Evening Star, full of strange golden fruits; and that Perseus had turned him into stone, when he passed him with the Gorgon's Head.

But you will see, too, that most of these red and black dots run in crooked lines; and that many of the clusters run in lines likewise.

Look at one line: by far the largest on the earth. You will learn a good deal of geography from it.

The red dots begin at a place called the Terribles, on the east side of the Bay of Bengal. They run on, here and there, along the islands of Sumatra and Java, and through the Spice Islands; and at New Guinea the line of red dots forks. One branch runs south-east, through islands whose names you never heard, to the Friendly Islands, and to New Zealand. The other runs north, through the Philippines, through Japan, through Kamschatka; and then there is a little break of sea, between Asia and America: but beyond it, the red dots begin again in the Aleutian Islands, and then turn down the whole west coast of America, down from Mount Elias (in what was, till lately, Russian America) towards British Columbia. Then, after a long gap, [58] there are one or two in Lower California (and we must not forget the terrible earthquake which has just shaken San Francisco, between those two last places); and when we come down to Mexico we find the red dots again plentiful, and only too plentiful; for they mark the great volcanic line of Mexico, of which you will read, I hope, some day, in Humboldt's works. But the line does not stop there. After the little gap of the Isthmus of Panama, it begins again in Quito, the very country which has just been shaken, and in which stand the huge volcanos Chimborazo, Pasto, Antisana, Cotopaxi, Pichincha, Tunguragua,—smooth cones from 15,000 to 20,000 feet high, shining white with snow, till the heat inside melts it off, and leaves the cinders of which the peaks are made all black and ugly among the clouds, ready to burst in smoke and fire. South of them again, there is a long gap, and then another line of red dots—Arequiba, Chipicani, Gualatieri, Atacama,—as high as or higher than those in Quito; and this, remember, is the other country which has just been shaken. On the sea shore below those volcanos stood the hapless city of Arica, whose ruins we saw in the picture. Then comes another gap; and then a line of more volcanos in Chili, at the foot of which happened that fearful earthquake of 1835 (besides many more) of which you will read some day in that noble book "The Voyage of the Beagle;"  and so the line [59] of dots runs down to the southernmost point of America.

What a line we have traced! Long enough to go round the world if it were straight. A line of holes out of which steam, and heat, and cinders, and melted stones are rushing up, perpetually, in one place and another. Now the holes in this line which are near each other have certainly something to do with each other. For instance, when the earth shook the other day round the volcanos of Quito, it shook also round the volcanos of Peru, though they were 600 miles away. And there are many stories of earthquakes being felt, or awful underground thunder heard, while volcanos were breaking out hundreds of miles away. I will give you a very curious instance of that.

If you look at the West Indies on the map, you will see a line of red dots runs through the Windward Islands: there are two volcanos in them, one in Guadaloupe, and one in St. Vincent (I will tell you a curious story, presently, about that last), and little volcanos (if they have ever been real volcanos at all), which now only send out mud, in Trinidad. There the red dots stop: but then begins along the north coast of South America a line of mountain country called Cumana, and Caraccas, which has often been horribly shaken by earthquakes. Now once, when the volcano in [60] St. Vincent began to pour out a vast stream of melted lava, a noise like thunder was heard underground, over thousands of square miles beyond those mountains, in the plains of Calabozo, and on the banks of the Apure, more than 600 miles away from the volcano,—a plain sign that there was something underground which joined them together, perhaps a long crack in the earth. Look for yourselves at the places, and you will see that (as Humboldt says) it is as strange as if an eruption of Mount Vesuvius was heard in the north of France.

So it seems as if these lines of volcanos stood along cracks in the rind of the earth, through which the melted stuff inside was for ever trying to force its way; and that, as the crack got stopped up in one place by the melted stuff cooling and hardening again into stone, it was burst in another place, and a fresh volcano made, or an old one re-opened.

Now we can understand why earthquakes should be most common round volcanos; and we can understand, too, why they would be worst before a volcano breaks out, because then the steam is trying to escape; and we can understand, too, why people who live near volcanos are glad to see them blazing and spouting, because then they have hope that the steam has found its way out, and will not make earthquakes any more for a while. But still that is merely foolish speculation on chance. Volcanos can never [61] be trusted. No one knows when one will break out, or what it will do; and those who live close to them—as the city of Naples is close to Mount Vesuvius—must not be astonished if they are blown up or swallowed up, as that great and beautiful city of Naples may be without a warning, any day.

For what happened to that same Mount Vesuvius nearly 1800 years ago, in the old Roman times? For ages and ages it had been lying quiet, like any other hill. Beautiful cities were built at its foot, filled with people who were as handsome, and as comfortable, and (I am afraid) as wicked, as people ever were on earth. Fair gardens, vineyards, olive-yards, covered the mountain slopes. It was held to be one of the Paradises of the world. As for the mountain's being a burning mountain, who ever thought of that? To be sure, on the top of it was a great round crater, or cup, a mile or more across, and a few hundred yards deep. But that was all overgrown with bushes and wild vines, full of boars and deer. What sign of fire was there in that? To be sure, also, there was an ugly place below by the sea-shore, called the Phlegæan fields, where smoke and brimstone came out of the ground, and a lake called Avernus over which poisonous gases hung, and which (old stories told) was one of the mouths of the Nether Pit. But what of that? It [62] had never harmed any one, and how could it harm them?


[Illustration]

So they all lived on, merrily and happily enough, till, in the year A.D. 79 (that was eight years, you know, after the Emperor Titus destroyed Jerusalem), there was stationed in the Bay of Naples a Roman admiral, called Pliny, who was also a very studious and learned man, and author of a famous old book on natural history. He was staying on shore with his sister; and as he sat in his study she called him out to see a strange cloud which had been hanging for some time over the top of Mount Vesuvius. It was in shape just like a pine-tree; not, of course, like one of our branching Scotch firs here, but like an Italian [63] stone pine, with a long straight stem and a flat parasol-shaped top. Sometimes it was blackish, sometimes spotted; and the good Admiral Pliny, who was always curious about natural science, ordered his cutter and went away across the bay to see what it could be. Earthquake shocks had been very common for the last few days; but I do not suppose that Pliny had any notion that the earthquakes and the cloud had aught to do with each other. However, he soon found out that they had; and to his cost. When he got near the opposite shore some of the sailors met him and entreated him to turn back. Cinders and pumice-stones were falling down from the sky, and flames breaking out of the mountain above. But Pliny would go on: he said that if people were in danger, it was his duty to help them; and that he must see this strange cloud, and note down the different shapes into which it changed. But the hot ashes fell faster and faster; the sea ebbed out suddenly, and left them nearly dry, and Pliny turned away to a place called Stabiæ, to the house of his friend Pomponianus, who was just going to escape in a boat. Brave Pliny told him not to be afraid, ordered his bath like a true Roman gentleman, and then went into dinner with a cheerful face. Flames came down from the mountain, nearer and nearer as the night drew on; but Pliny persuaded his friend that they were only fires in some villages from which [64] the peasants had fled, and then went to bed and slept soundly. However, in the middle of the night they found the courtyard being fast filled with cinders, and, if they had not woke up the Admiral in time, he would never have been able to get out of the house. The earthquake shocks grew stronger and fiercer, till the house was ready to fall; and Pliny and his friend, and the sailors and the slaves, all fled into the open fields, amid a shower of stones and cinders, tying pillows over their heads to prevent their being beaten down. The day had come by this time, but not the dawn—for it was still pitch dark as night. They went down to their boats upon the shore; but the sea raged so horribly that there was no getting on board of them. Then Pliny grew tired, and made his men spread a sail for him, and lay down on it; but there came down upon them a rush of flames, and a horrible smell of sulphur, and all ran for their lives. Some of the slaves tried to help the Admiral upon his legs; but he sank down again overpowered with the brimstone fumes, and so was left behind. When they came back again, there he lay dead, but with his clothes in order and his face as quiet as if he had been only sleeping. And that was the end of a brave and learned man—a martyr to duty and to the love of science.

But what was going on in the meantime? Under clouds of ashes, cinders, mud, lava, three of those [65] happy cities were buried at once—Herculaneum, Pompeii, Stabiæ. They were buried just as the people had fled from them, leaving the furniture and the earthenware, often even jewels and gold, behind, and here and there among them a human being who had not had time to escape from the dreadful deluge of dust. The ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii have been dug into since; and the paintings, especially in Pompeii, are found upon the walls still fresh, preserved from the air by the ashes which have covered them in. When you are older you perhaps will go to Naples, and see in its famous museum the curiosities which have been dug out of the ruined cities; and you will walk, I suppose, along the streets of Pompeii, and see the wheel-tracks in the pavement, along which carts and chariots rumbled 2,000 years ago. Meanwhile, if you go nearer home, to the Crystal Palace and to the Pompeian Court, as it is called, you will see an exact model of one of these old buried houses, copied even to the very paintings on the wells, and judge for yourself, as far as a little boy can judge, what sort of life these thoughtless, luckless people lived 2,000 years ago.

And what had become of Vesuvius, the treacherous mountain? Half or more than half of the side of the old crater had been blown away; and what was left, which is now called the Monte Somma, stands in a half circle round the new cone and new crater which [66] is burning at this very day. True, after that eruption which killed Pliny, Vesuvius fell asleep again, and did not awake for 134 years, and then again for 269 years but it has been growing more and more restless as the ages have passed on, and now hardly a year passes without its sending out smoke and stones from its crater, and streams of lava from its sides.

And now, I suppose, you will want to know what a volcano is like, and what a cone, and a crater, and lava are?

What a volcano is like, it is easy enough to show you; for they are the most simply and beautifully shaped of all mountains, and they are alike all over the world, whether they be large or small. Almost every volcano in the world, I believe, is, or has been once, of the shape which you see in the drawing opposite; even those volcanos in the Sandwich Islands, of which you have often heard, which are now great lakes of boiling fire upon flat downs, without any cone to them at all. They, I believe, are volcanos which have fallen in ages ago: just as in Java a whole burning mountain fell in on the night of the 11th of August, in the year 1772. Then, after a short and terrible earthquake, a bright cloud suddenly covered the whole mountain. The people who dwelt around it tried to escape; but before the poor souls could get away the earth sunk beneath their feet, and the whole mountain fell in and was swallowed up, with a [67] noise as if great cannon were being fired. Forty villages and nearly 3,000 people were destroyed, and where the mountain had been was only a plain of red-hot stones. In the same way, in the year 1698, the top of a mountain in Quito fell in in a single night, leaving only two immense peaks of rock behind, and pouring out great floods of mud mixed with dead fish; for there are underground lakes among those volcanos, which swarm with little fish which never see the light.


[Illustration]

But most volcanos as I say, are, or have been, the shape of the one which you see here. This is Cotopaxi, in Quito, more than 19,000 feet in height. All those sloping sides are made of cinders and ashes, [68] braced together, I suppose, by bars of solid lava-stone inside, which prevent the whole from crumbling down. The upper part, you see, is white with snow, as far down as a line which is 15,000 feet above the sea; for the mountain is in the tropics, close to the equator, and the snow will not lie in that hot climate any lower down. But now and then the snow melts off and rushes down the mountain side in floods of water and of mud, and the cindery cone of Cotopaxi stands out black and dreadful against the clear blue sky, and then the people of that country know what is coming. The mountain is growing so hot inside that it melts off its snowy covering; and soon it will burst forth with smoke and steam, and red-hot stones and earthquakes, which will shake the ground, and roars that will be heard, it may be, hundreds of miles away.

And now for the words cone, crater, lava. If I can make you understand those words, you will see why volcanos must be in general of the shape of Cotopaxi.

Cone, crater, lava: those words make up the alphabet of volcano learning. The cone is the outside of a huge chimney; the crater is the mouth of it. The lava is the ore which is being melted in the furnace below, that it may flow out over the surface of the old land, and make new land instead.

And where is the furnace itself? Who can tell [69] that? Under the roots of the mountains, under the depths of the sea; down "the path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen: the lion's whelp hath not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it. There He putteth forth His hand upon the rock; He overturneth the mountain by the roots; He cutteth out rivers among the rocks: and His eye seeth every precious thing"—while we, like little ants, run up and down outside the earth, scratching, like ants, a few feet down, and calling that a deep ravine; or peeping a few feet down into the crater of a volcano, unable to guess what precious things may lie below—below even the fire which blazes and roars up through the thin crust of the earth. For of the inside of this earth we know nothing whatsoever: we only know that it is, on an average, several times as heavy as solid rock: but how that can be, we know not.

So let us look at the chimney, and what comes out of it; for we can see very little more.

Why is a volcano like a cone?

For the same cause for which a molehill is like a cone, though a very rough one; and that the little heaps which the burrowing beetles make on the moor, or which the ant-lions in France make in the sand, are all something in the shape of a cone, with a hole like a crater in the middle. What the beetle and the ant-lion do on a very little scale, the steam inside the [70] earth does on a great scale. When once it has forced a vent into the outside air, it tears out the rocks underground, grinds them small against each other, often into the finest dust, and blasts them out of the hole which it has made. Some of them fall back into the hole, and are shot out again: but most of them fall round the hole, most of them close to it, and fewer of them farther off, till they are piled up in a ring round it, just as the sand is piled up round a beetle's burrow. For days, and weeks, and months this goes on; even it may be for hundreds of years: till a great cone is formed round the steam vent, hundreds or thousands of feet in height, of dust and stones, and of cinders likewise. For recollect, that when the steam has blown away the cold earth and rock near the surface of the ground, it begins blowing out the hot rocks down below, red-hot, white-hot, and at last actually melted. But these, as they are hurled into the cool air above, become ashes, cinders, and blocks of stone again, making the hill on which they fall bigger and bigger continually. And thus does wise Madam How stand in no need of bricklayers, but makes her chimneys build themselves.

And why is the mouth of the chimney called a crater?

Crater, as you know, is Greek for a cup. And the mouth of these chimneys, when they have become choked and stopped working, are often just the shape [71] of a cup, or (as the Germans call them) kessels, which means kettles, or caldrons. I have seen some of them as beautifully and exactly rounded as if a cunning engineer had planned them, and had them dug out with the spade. At first, of course, their sides and bottom are nothing but loose stones, cinders, slag, ashes, such as would be thrown out of a furnace. But Madam How, who, whenever she makes an ugly desolate place, always tries to cover over its ugliness, and set something green to grow over it, and make it pretty once more, does so often and often by her worn-out craters. I have seen them covered with short sweet turf, like so many chalk downs. I have seen them, too, filled with bushes, which held woodcocks and wild boars. Once I came on a beautiful round crater on the top of a mountain, which was filled at the bottom with a splendid crop of potatoes. Though Madam How had not put them there herself, she had at least taught the honest Germans to put them there. And often Madam How turns her worn-out craters into beautiful lakes. There are many such crater-lakes in Italy, as you will see if ever you go there; as you may see in English galleries painted by Wilson, a famous artist who died before you were born. You recollect Lord Macaulay's ballad, "The Battle of the Lake Regillus"? Then that Lake Regillus (if I recollect right) is one of these round crater lakes. Many such deep clear blue lakes have [72] I seen in the Eifel, in Germany; and many a curious plant have I picked on their shores, where once the steam blasted, and the earthquake roared, and the ash-clouds rushed up high into the heaven, and buried all the land around in dust, which is now fertile soil. And long did I puzzle to find out why the water stood in some craters, while others, within a mile of them perhaps, were perfectly dry. That I never found out for myself. But learned men tell me that the ashes which fall back into the crater, if the bottom of it be wet from rain, will sometimes "set" (as it is called) into a hard cement; and so make the bottom of the great bowl waterproof, as if it were made of earthenware.

But what gives the craters this cup-shape at first?

Think—While the steam and stones are being blown out, the crater is an open funnel, with more or less upright walls inside. As the steam grows weaker, fewer and fewer stones fall outside, and more and more fall back again inside. At last they quite choke up the bottom of the great round hole. Perhaps, too, the lava or melted rock underneath cools and grows hard, and that chokes up the hole lower down. Then, down from the round edge of the crater the stones and cinders roll inward more and more. The rains wash them down, the wind blows them down. They roll to the middle, and meet each other, and stop. And so gradually the steep funnel becomes a round cup. You may prove for yourself that it must [73] be so, if you will try. Do you not know that if you dig a round hole in the ground, and leave it to crumble in, it is sure to become cup-shaped at last, though at first its sides may have been quite upright, like those of a bucket? If you do not know, get a trowel and make your little experiment.

And now you ought to understand what "cone" and "crater" mean. And more, if you will think for yourself, you may guess what would come out of a volcano when it broke out "in an eruption," as it is usually called. First, clouds of steam and dust (what you would call smoke); then volleys of stones, some cool, some burning hot; and at the last, because it lies lowest of all, the melted rock itself, which is called lava.

And where would that come out? At the top of the chimney? At the top of the cone?

No. Madam How, as I told you, usually makes things make themselves. She has made the chimney of the furnace make itself; and next she will make the furnace-door make itself.

The melted lava rises in the crater—the funnel inside the cone—but it never gets to the top. It is so enormously heavy that the sides of the cone cannot bear its weight, and give way low down. And then, through ashes and cinders, the melted lava burrows out, twisting and twirling like an enormous fiery earth-worm, till it gets to the air outside, and runs off down [74] the mountain in a stream of fire. And so you may see (as are to be seen on Vesuvius now) two eruptions at once—one of burning stones above, and one of melted lava below.

And what is lava?

That, I think, I must tell you another time. For when I speak of it I shall have to tell you more about Madam How, and her ways of making the ground on which you stand, than I can say just now. But if you want to know (as I dare say you do) what the eruption of a volcano is like, you may read what follows. I did not see it happen; for I never had the good fortune of seeing a mountain burning, though I have seen many and many a one which has been burnt—extinct volcanos, as they are called.

The man who saw it—a very good friend of mine, and a very good man of science also—went last year to see an eruption on Vesuvius, not from the main crater, but from a small one which had risen up suddenly on the outside of it; and he gave me leave (when I told him that I was writing for children) to tell them what he saw.

This new cone, he said, was about 200 feet high, and perhaps 80 or 100 feet across at the top. And as he stood below it (it was not safe to go up it) smoke rolled up from its top, "rosy pink below," from the glare of the caldron, and above "faint greenish or blueish silver of indescribable beauty, from the [75] light of the moon." But more—By good chance, the cone began to send out, not smoke only, but brilliant burning stones. "Each explosion," he says, "was like a vast girandole of rockets, with a noise (such as rockets would make) like the waves on a beach, or the wind blowing through shrouds. The mountain was trembling the whole time. So it went on for two hours and more; sometimes eight or ten explosions in a minute, and more than 1,000 stones in each, some as large as two bricks end to end. The largest ones mostly fell back into the crater; but the smaller ones being thrown higher, and more acted on by the wind, fell in immense numbers on the leeward slope of the cone" (of course, making it bigger and bigger, as I have explained already to you), and of course, as they were intensely hot and bright, making the cone look as if it too was red-hot. But it was not so, he says, really. The colour of the stones was rather "golden, and they spotted the black cone over with their golden showers, the smaller ones stopping still, the bigger ones rolling down, and jumping along just like hares." "A wonderful pedestal," he says, "for the explosion which surmounted it." How high the stones flew up he could not tell. "There was generally one which went much higher than the rest, and pierced upwards towards the moon, who looked calmly down, mocking such vain attempts to reach her." The large stones, of course, did not rise so [76] high; and some, he says, "only just appeared over the rim of the cone, above which they came floating leisurely up, to show their brilliant forms and intense white light for an instant, and then subside again."

Try and picture that to yourselves, remembering that this was only a little side eruption, of no more importance to the whole mountain than the fall of a slate off the roof is of importance to the whole house. And then think how mean and weak man's fire-works, and even man's heaviest artillery, are compared with the terrible beauty and terrible strength of Madam How's artillery underneath our feet.


[Illustration]

Now look at this figure. It represents a section of a volcano; that is, one cut in half to show you the inside. A is the cone of cinders. B, the black line [77] up through the middle, is the funnel, or crack, through which steam, ashes, lava, and everything else rises. C is the crater mouth. D D D, which looks broken, are the old rocks which the steam heaved up and burst before it could get out. And what are the black lines across, marked E E E? They are the streams of lava which have burrowed out, some covered up again in cinders, some lying bare in the open air, some still inside the cone, bracing it together, holding it up. Something like this, is the inside of a volcano.


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