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West Indian islands, the coasts of Venezuela, the Cordillera of New Granada, and the valleys of the Mississippi and Ohio. For nearly two years the earthquakes had continued, when they culminated in one great tragedy, which should be read at length in the pages of Humboldt. On March 26th, 1812, when the people of Caracas were assembled in the churches, beneath a still and blazing sky, one minute of earthquake sufficed to bury, amid the ruins of churches and houses, nearly ten thousand souls. The same earthquake wrought terrible destruction along the whole line of the northern Cordilleras, and was felt even at Santa Fé de Bogota and Honda, one hundred and eighty leagues from Caracas. But the end was not yet. While the wretched survivors of Caracas were dying of fever and starvation, and wandering inland to escape from ever-renewed earthquake shocks, among villages and farms which, ruined like their own city, could give them no shelter, the almost forgotten volcano of St. Vincent was muttering in suppressed wrath. It had thrown out no lava since 1718, if, at least, the eruption spoken of by Moreau de Jonnés took place in the Souffrière. According to him, with a terrific earthquake, clouds of ashes were driven into the air, with violent detonations from a mountain situated at the eastern end of the island. When the eruption had ceased, it was found that the whole mountain had disappeared. Now there is no eastern end to St. Vincent nor any mountain on the east coast, and the Souffrière is at the northern end. It is impossible, meanwhile, that the wreck of such a mountain should not have left traces visible and notorious to this day. May not the truth be, that the Souffrière had once a lofty cone, which was blasted away in 1718, leaving the present crater-ring of cliffs and peaks; and that thus may be explained the discrepancies in the accounts of its height, which Mr. Scrope gives as 4940 feet, and Humboldt and Dr. Davy at 3000, a measurement which seems to me to be more probably correct? The mountain is said to have been slightly active in 1785. In 1812, its old crater had been for some years (and is now) a deep blue lake, with walls of rock around, 800 feet in height, reminding one traveller (Dr. Davy) of the lake of Albano. But for twelve months it had given warning, by frequent earthquake shocks, that it had its part to play in the great subterranean battle between rock and steam; and on the 27th April 1812 the battle began.
“A negro boy—he is said to be still alive in St. Vincent—was herding cattle on the mountain-side. A stone fell near him, and then another. He fancied that other boys were pelting him from the cliffs above, and began throwing stones in return. But the stones fell thicker, and among them one and then another too large to have been thrown by human hand. And the poor fellow woke up to the fact that not a boy but the mountain was throwing stones at him; and that the column of black cloud which was rising from the crater above was not harmless vapours, but dust, and ash, and stone. He turned and ran for his life, leaving the cattle to their fate, while the steam mitrailleuse, of the Titans—to which all man's engines of destruction are but popguns—roared on for three days and nights, covering the greater part of the island with ashes, burying crops, breaking branches off the trees, and spreading ruin
Ch. XIX.] GREAT ERUPTION OF ST. VINCENT.
from which several estates never recovered; and so the 30th of April dawned in darkness which might be felt.
“Meanwhile, on the same day, to change the scene of the campaign two hundred and ten leagues, ' a distance,' as Humboldt says, 'equal to that between Vesuvius and Paris,' the inhabitants, not only of Caracas, but of Calabozo, situate in the midst of the Llanos, over a space of four thousand square leagues, were terrified by a subterranean noise, which resembled frequent discharges of the loudest cannon. It was accompanied by no shock, and, what is very remarkable, was as loud on the coast as at eighty leagues inland; and at Caracas, as well as at Calabozo, preparations were made to put the place in defence against an enemy who seemed to be advancing with heavy artillery. They might as well have copied the St. Vincent herd-boy, and thrown their stones, too, at the Titans; for the noise was, there can be no doubt, nothing else than the final explosion in St. Vincent far away. The same explosion was heard in Venezuela, the same at Martinique and Guadaloupe; but there, too, there were no earthquake shocks. The volcanoes of the two French islands lay quiet, and left their English brother to do the work. On the same day, a stream of lava rushed down from the mountain, reached the sea in four hours, and then all was over. The earthquakes which had shaken for two years a sheet of the earth's surface larger than half Europe were stilled by the eruption of this single vent.
“The strangest fact about this eruption was, that the mountain did not make use of its old crater. The originalvent must have become so jammed and consolidated, in the few years between 1785 and 1812, that it could
not be reopened, even by a steam-force the vastness of which may be guessed at from the vastness of the area which it had shaken for two years. So when the eruption was over it was found that the old crater-lake, incredible as it may seem, remained undisturbed, as far as has been ascertained. But close to it, and separated only by a knife-edge of rock some 700 feet in height, and so narrow that, as I was assured by one who had seen it, it is dangerous to crawl along it, a second crater, nearly as large as the first, had been blasted out, the bottom of which, in like manner, is now filled with water.
“The day after the explosion, 'Black Sunday,' gave a proof, but no measure, of the enormous force which had been exerted. Eighty miles to windward lies Barbadoes. All Saturday a heavy cannonading had been heard to the eastward. The English and French fleets were surely engaged. The soldiers were called out, the batteries manned, but the cannonade died away, and all went to bed in wonder. On the ist of May the clocks struck six; but the sun did not, as usual in the tropics, answer to the call. The darkness was still intense, and grew more intense as the morning wore on. A slow and silent rain of impalpable dust was falling over the whole island.
“The trade-wind had fallen dead; the everlasting roar of the surf was gone; and the only noise was the crashing of the branches snapped by the weight of the clammy dust. About one o'clock the veil began to lift, a lurid sunlight stared in from the horizon, but all was black overhead. Gradually the dust-cloud drifted away; the island saw the sun once more, and saw itself inches deep in black, and in this case fertilising, dust.
Ch. XIX.] GREAT ERUPTION OF ST. VINCENT.
“Those who will recollect that Barbadoes is eighty miles to windward of St. Vincent, and that a strong breeze from east-north-east is usually blowing from the former island to the latter, will be able to imagine, not to measure, the force of an explosion which must have blown the dust several miles into the air above the region of the trade-wind. Whether into a totally calm stratum or into that still higher one in which the heated south-west wind is hurrying continually from the tropics toward the pole.”*
I have quoted this graphic account of the great volcanic eruption of St. Vincent in 1812 from Canon Kingsley's delightful work to impress on my readers, in more eloquent language than I can command, the fact of great explosions having taken place in recent times similar in character, though much inferior in extent and force, to that by which I believe the great basin of the Lake of Masaya and similar basins in the same and adjoining Pacific provinces have been blasted out. I do not shut my eyes to the fact that great as was the force in operation in 1812 at St. Vincent, that necessary to excavate the great chasm at Masaya was incomparably greater. No one is more disinclined than I am to invoke the aid of greater natural forces in former times than are now in existence. But I believe there is good reason to infer that at the close of the glacial period volcanic energy was much more intense than now. So strained is the earth's crust at some parts that it is surmised that even a great difference in the pressure of the atmosphere such as occurs during a cyclone, may be sufficient to bring on an earthquake or a volcanic eruption already immi
* “At Last,” by Charles Kingsley, vol. i. p. 90.