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- Wonders of Creation - 3/15 -

by volcanoes, the strangest of all are fishes. How droll to dine upon fish cooked in a volcano! A queer fish it must be that likes to dwell in the bowels of a mountain--more especially of one whose entrails are mostly of liquid fire. But of this also more fully anon.

In addition to the solid materials thrown out by volcanoes, there are sometimes poured forth torrents of boiling water and liquid mud. More frequently, however, the water issues in the form of vast columns of steam and sulphurous vapour. These ascend to great heights in the air, and becoming gradually chilled, they form immense masses of dark heavy clouds, similar to those we observe before a thunderstorm. Nor is this resemblance apparent only. For the clouds that overhang an active volcano during an eruption of its vapours are, in reality, thunderclouds highly charged with electricity. They accordingly produce what Baron Humboldt calls the volcanic storm. It includes all the most terrible of atmospheric phenomena--lightnings of extraordinary vividness; thunders that peal and reverberate as if they would rend the echoes asunder; torrents of rain that pour down upon the mountain and its neighbourhood, hissing like thousands of serpents when they fall on the glowing lava-torrent; and whirlwinds that sweep the volcanic ashes round and round in vast eddies, and before whose violence no man of mortal mould is able for a moment to stand.

Beyond and above this din of contending elements are heard the hoarse bellowings of the mountain itself, which, meanwhile, trembles to its very core. The detonations from the volcano far exceed in loudness any other earthly noise. Compared with these, the pealing of the loudest thunder is but as the report of a musket contrasted with the simultaneous discharge of a thousand pieces of heavy ordnance. The explosions of Tomboro, and the vibrations accompanying them, have been heard and felt at almost incredible distances. Judge, then, of the immensity of the forces which are thus brought into play, and the overwhelming grandeur of the scene which such an eruption, with all its accompaniments of storm and tempest, must present to the bewildered eye and ear. Even to read of it sends a thrill through the nerves: what, then, must it be to listen and behold?

So far do we dwell from the nearest volcanoes, and so little are we familiar with the names except of a few, that not many persons are aware of the large number of burning mountains on the face of our globe. The total number, however, of those which are known to have been active within historic times is fully two hundred. Of these, the most familiar to us for its classic fame and its restless activity is Mount Vesuvius, which stands alone in its grandeur on the continent of Europe. The most violent in its activity is Tomboro, in the island of Sumbawa. The highest is Cotopaxi, in the range of the Andes, which rises far into the region of perpetual snow. Its height is 16,800 feet above the level of the sea. Strange it seems, that volcanic fires should glow at such a height in the midst of snow and ice. But in this particular Cotopaxi does not stand alone. The Peak of Teneriffe, Mount Etna, and several others, also rise above the snow-line; while the burning mountains of Iceland, Greenland, and Kamtschatka, with those which rear their heads in the frozen regions near the South Pole, are for the most part enveloped in ice and snow from head to foot.

Before proceeding to describe to you some of the more interesting of the individual volcanoes and volcanic groups, it may be well to let you into a secret worth knowing. You would doubtless like to have a volcano all to yourself. Here is the receipt: Buy several pounds of clean iron filings, and a somewhat larger quantity of the flowers of sulphur. Mix the two together and knead them well with water into a stiffish paste. Then wrap this pudding in a cloth, and put another cloth about it, which has been smeared with common or coal-tar. Dig a hole in some quiet corner of your garden, pop your dumpling into it, and cover it well up with earth, treading it down firmly with your feet. Not many hours will elapse before you will see the ground swell like a molehill; an eruption will ensue, and you will be the happy possessor of a Stromboli of your own!


Volcanoes of Iceland--Mount Hecla--Earliest Eruption--Great Eruption in 1845--Skaptar Yokul--Terrible Eruption in 1783--Rise and Disappearance of Nyoe--Katlugaia--The Geysers--A very hot Bath --Californian Geysers--Iceland-spar--Jan Mayen

We shall begin with the volcanoes of Iceland, of which the most interesting and active is Mount Hecla. The annexed woodcut will give you an idea of its appearance. You will observe the column of volcanic vapour ascending from the snow-clad summit of the cone, and how dreary and desolate is the aspect of the country at its base.

The earliest recorded eruption of Mount Hecla took place in the ninth century of the Christian era; but probably there had been many before that date. Since then there have been between twenty and thirty considerable eruptions of this mountain, and it has sometimes remained in a state of activity for upwards of six years with little intermission. It took a long rest, however, of more than sixty years' duration, prior to the year 1845, when it again burst forth. After a violent storm on the night of the 2nd of September in that year, the surface of the ground in the Orkney Islands was found strown with volcanic dust. There was thus conveyed to the inhabitants of Great Britain an intimation that Hecla had been again at work. Accordingly, tidings soon after arrived of a great eruption of the mountain. On the night of the 1st of September, the dwellers in its neighbourhood were terrified by a fearful underground groaning, which continued till mid-day on the 2nd. Then, with a tremendous crash, there were formed in the sides of the cone two large openings, whence there gushed torrents of lava, which flowed down two gorges on the flanks of the mountain. The whole summit was enveloped in clouds of vapour and volcanic dust. The neighbouring rivers became so hot as to kill the fish, and the sheep fled in terror from the adjoining heaths, some being burnt before they could escape.

On the night of the 15th of September, two new openings were formed--one on the eastern, and the other on the southern slope-- from both of which lava was discharged for twenty-two hours. It flowed to a distance of upwards of twenty miles, killing many cattle and destroying a large tract of pasturage. Twelve miles from the crater, the lava-stream was between forty and fifty feet deep and nearly a mile in width. On the 12th of October a fresh torrent of lava burst forth, and heaped up another similar mass. The mountain continued in a state of activity up to April 1846; then it rested for a while, and began again in the following month of October. Since then, however, it has enjoyed repose.

The effects of these eruptions were disastrous. The whole island was strown with volcanic ashes, which, where they did not smother the grass outright, gave it a poisonous taint. The cattle that ate of it were attacked by a murrain, of which great numbers died. The ice and snow, which had gathered about the mountain for a long period of time, were wholly melted by the heat. Masses of pumice weighing nearly half a ton were thrown to a distance of between four and five miles.

[Illustration: Mount Hecla]

Mount Hecla is not the only volcano in Iceland. There are several others; and from one of them, named Skaptar Yokul, there was, in the year 1783, an eruption still more violent than that from Hecla above described. It began on the 8th of June, and raged with little abatement till the end of August, whence onward it continued, but with less violence, till the following year. The lava, in this case, poured from numerous openings; but these rivulets ultimately united themselves into two large currents, which flowed onwards to the sea. In their progress, these burning torrents filled up the beds of two considerable rivers. The greater of the two streams, after it had ceased to flow and had become a solid mass of rock, measured fifty miles in length, and between twelve and fifteen miles in breadth. Its average depth on the plains was about a hundred feet; but in the bed of the river, which it had filled, it was not less than six hundred feet. The snow and ice, which had previously covered the mountain, were not only melted, but the water that flowed from them was raised to the boiling point, and poured down with destructive effect on the plains. The dust and ashes thrown into the air darkened the sun; and they were then strown over the surface of the island, destroying all the pastures, so that many thousands of cattle, horses, and sheep perished. But worse than that, upwards of nine thousand persons lost their lives by this dreadful catastrophe.

About a month before this great eruption of Skaptar Yokul, a volcanic island was thrown up from the sea, at a distance of about seventy miles from Iceland. So great was the quantity of ashes and dross ejected from its crater, that it overspread the sea to a distance of a hundred and fifty miles, forming a crust which obstructed the progress of ships. Portions of this crust floated as far as the Shetland and Orkney islands. The King of Denmark named this fiery apparition "Nyoe," or "New Island," and doubtless prided himself not a little on this addition to his limited dominions. But, alas, for human ambition! About a year after the date of its first appearance, Nyoe sank into the depths out of which it arose, and its position is now marked only by a moderate shoal.

It is not by their ejected lavas alone that the volcanoes of Iceland produce their destructive effects. Disastrous consequences have frequently resulted from the sudden melting of their snows and glaciers, on which the volcanic fires operate far more rapidly than does the heat of the sun. It is chiefly by the vast quantities of earth, sand, stones, and broken fragments of rock, which they hurry along with them in their wild career, that the waters, so suddenly freed, produce the greatest amount of damage. During an eruption of Katlugaia, one of the southern Icelandic volcanoes, in 1756, the mass of material thus carried down by the melted snows and glaciers was so great, that, advancing several leagues into the sea, it formed three parallel promontories, which rose above the sea-level, where there had formerly been a depth of forty fathoms of water. Vast ravines were, at the same time, scooped out of the sides of the mountain by the erosion of the waters. Another eruption of this volcano in 1860 produced similar results.

Still more interesting than the volcanic mountains of Iceland are its Geysers, or intermittent springs of boiling water. The chief of these is the Great Geyser. A jet rises to a vast height, and is accompanied by much steam. Indeed, it is quite at the boiling- point.

The little mound, from the top of which the jet appears to rise, is composed of a substance named siliceous sinter, and is a deposit from the water of the fountain. At the top of this mound, which is

Wonders of Creation - 3/15

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