Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

progress of thought in the mind of Socrates, and through what changes and circumstances he arrived at that system of opinions which, if they sometimes remind us of what unassisted nature must be, more often recall to us, ' How glorious a piece of work man is ! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculties ! in apprehension how like a god!' This, however, has not been done ;

and Socrates must now be taken as we find him: by thus leaving the task to others, he has perhaps gained something in reputa

the score of intellect, but it can neither be concealed nor denied, that on the side of manners and morals, he has lost much both in purity and dignity.

We are aware that, in offering these remarks, we come across many prejudices and prepossessions; but in making them we have been conscious of no bias on our own minds, and we confidently trust to the truth and the utility of them for our apology.

• Se la voce sarà molesta
Nel primo gusto, vital nutrimento
Lascerà poi quando sarà digesta.'

tion on

Art. II.— Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial

Regions of the New Continent, during the years 1799–1804. By Alexander de Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland; with Maps, Plans, &c. vol. iv. London, 1819. THE 'HE fourth volume of Baron de Humboldt's · Personal Nar

rative' has all the beauties and all the blemishes of the three preceding ones. Like them it exhibits an exuberance of style and a weight of diction in treating of the most common occurrences, which could scarcely be tolerated if it were not for the solidity of the judgment and the justness of the conceptions—but, on the various acquirements of this accomplished traveller, we have dwelt so largely on former occasions, that any thing we could now add would only appear superfluous; we shall, therefore, content ourselves with observing, that he is so deeply versed in the study of nature, and possessed of such facility in bringing to bear, on every object that arrests his attention, so vast a fund of knowledge, that we may say of him, in physics, what was said of Barrow in divinity, that he never quits a subject till he has exhausted it.

But this very facility, which perhaps may be thought the highest praise that could be bestowed, as applied to a series of philosophical essays, or distinct dissertations on physical subjects, becomes a fault in the personal narrative of voyages or travels; at least the bulk of readers will be very apt to lay down the book on finding the thread of the story perpetually interrupted by a learned disquisition of a dozen pages on the geognostical constitution of a chain

of

of mountains, or the lines of isothermal temperature. Dissertations of this kind will have a tendency to prevent them from taking the trouble to cull those numerous beauties which, in an unincumbered narrative, would have carried them along with an irresistible impulse.

M.de Humboldt may perhaps reply, that he writes for the learned; be it so: yet we will venture to say, that there are few of those most devoted to pure abstract science, or physical research, who would not rather see each subject treated separately and apart, than thus find them all mixed up with common-place observations and matters of ordinary occurrence. With a little management, we conceive, he might have adapted his volumes to every kind of readerhe might, for example, have given an uninterrupted narrative of incidents, with views of society and manners, descriptions of natural objects, accompanied with such reflections and observations as naturally rise out of them; and no traveller knows how to catch the prominent features of objects, and turn them to account better than Baron de Humboldt. The scientific descriptions, and the dissertations to which they might lead, would be advantageously thrown into an appendix, where they would be more accessible and more acceptable to those who had a taste for such matters.

We might bring forward the whole of the first chapter of the present volume as a striking illustration of the objection we have taken to the plan of the Personal Narrative.' It is not merely an account of the earthquake which bappened at the Caraccas twelve years after the author had left that country, but a complete dissertation on earthquakes in general: for the introduction of this extraneous topic he pleads the example of M. de la Condamine, who described the memorable eruptions of the volcano of Cotapaxi, which took place long after his departure from Quito. ! I trust (says he) • I shall deserve less blame, as the events I am going to relate will tend to elucidate the theory of volcanic reactions, or the influence of a system of volcanoes, on a vast space of circumjacent country.' So far from blame, we should say he is deserving of all praise for the accumulation of facts brought to bear upon

this

question; all we object to is, their being introduced into the text of his Personal Narrative. There is something, however, so awful in the terrible catastrophe which befel the city of Caraccas on the 26th of March, that we cannot forbear transferring some account of it to our pages. After stating a multitude of facts, in connection with each other, to shew the relations that link together volcanoes of the same group, and which pave the way for the fatal earthquake in question, M. de Humboldt thus proceeds.

' A great drought prevailed at this period in the province of Venezuela. Not a single drop of rain had fallen at Caraccas, or in the country ninety leagues round, during the five montbs which preceded

the

X 2

the destruction of the capital. The 26th of March was a remarkably hot day. The air was calm, and the sky unclouded. It was Holy Thursday, and a great part of the population was assembled in the churches. Nothing seemed to presage the calamities of the day. At seven minutes after four in the afternoon the first shock was felt; it was sufficiently powerful to make the bells of the churches toll; it lasted five or six seconds, during which time, the ound was in a continual undulating movement, and seemed to heave up like a boiling liquid. The danger was thought to be past, when a tremendous subterraneous noise was heard, resembling the rolling of thunder, but louder, and of longer continuance, than that heard within the tropics in time of storms. This noise preceded a perpendicular motion of three or four seconds, followed by an undulatory movement somewhat longer. The shocks were in opposite directions, from north to south, and from east to west. Nothing could resist the movement from beneath upward, and undulations crossing each other. The town of Caraccas was entirely overthrown. Thousands of the inhabitants (between nine and ten thousand) were buried under the ruins of the houses and churches. The procession had not yet set out; but the crowd was so great in the churches, that nearly three or four thousand persons were crushed by the fall of their vaulted roofs. The explosion was stronger toward the north, in that part of the town situate nearest the mountain of Avila, and the Silla. The churches of la Trinidad and Alta Gracia, which were more than one hundred and fifty feet high, and the naves of which were supported by pillars of twelve or fifteen feet diameter, left a mass of ruins scarcely exceeding five or six feet in elevation. The sinking of the ruins has been so considerable, that there now scarcely remain any vestiges of pillars or columns. The barracks, called El Quartel de San Carlos, situate farther north of the church of the Trinity, on the road from the Custom-house de la Pastora, almost entirely disappeared. A regiment of troops of the line, that was assembled under arms, ready to join the procession, was, with the exception of a few men, buried under the ruins of this great edifice. Nine tenths of the fine town of Caraccas were entirely destroyed. The walls of the houses that were not thrown down, as those of the street San Juan, near the Capuchin Hospital, were cracked in such a manner, that it was impossible to run the risk of inhabiting them. The effects of the earthquake were somewhat less violent in the western and southern parts of the city, between the principal square and the ravin of Caraguata. There, the cathedral, supported by enormous buttresses, remains standing.

Estimating at nine or ten thousand the number of the dead in the city of Caraccas, we do not include those unhappy persons, who, dangerously wounded, perished several months after, for want of food and proper care. The night of Holy Thursday presented the most distressing scene of desolation and sorrow. That thick cloud of dust, which, rising above the ruins, darkened the sky like a fog, had settled on the ground. No shock was selt, and never was a night more calm, or more serene. The moon, nearly full, illumined the rounded domes of the Silla, and

the

the aspect of the sky formed a perfect contrast to that of the earth, covered with the dead, and heaped with ruins. Mothers were seen bearing in their arms their children, whom they hoped to recal to life. Desolate families wandered through the city seeking a brother, a husband, a friend, of whose fate they were ignorant, and whom they believed to be lost in the crowd. The people pressed along the streets, which could no more be recognized but by long lives of ruins.

"All the calamities experienced in the great catastrophes of Lisbon, Messina, Lima, and Riobamba were renewed on the fatal day of the 26th of March, 1812. The wounded, buried under the ruins, implored by their cries the help of the passers by, and nearly two thousand were dug out. Never was pity displayed in a more affecting manner; never had it been seen more ingeniously active, than in the efforts employed to save the miserable victims, whose groans reached the ear.' Implements for digging, and clearing away the ruins were entirely wanting; and the people were obliged to use their bare hands, to disinter the living. The wounded, as well as the sick who had escaped from the hospitals, were laid on the banks of the small river Guayra. They found no shelter but the foliage of trees. Beds, linen to dress the wounds, instruments of surgery, medicines, and objects of the most urgent necessity, were buried under the ruins. Every thing, even food, was wanting during the first days. Water became alike scarce in the interior of the city. The commotion had rent the pipes of the fountains; the falling in of the earth had choaked up the springs that supplied them; and it became necessary, in order to have water, to go down to the river Guayra, which was considerably swelled; and then vessels to convey the water were wanting.

· There remained a duty to be fulfilled toward the dead, enjoined at once by piety, and the dread of infection. It being impossible to inter so many thousand corpses, half-buried under the ruins, commissaries were appointed to burn the bodies: and for this purpose funeral piles were erected between the heaps of ruins. This ceremony lasted several days. Amid so many public calamities, the people devoted themselves to those religious duties, which they thought were the most fitted to appease

the wrath of Heaven. Some, assembling in processions, sang funeral hymns; others, in a state of distraction, confessed themselves aloud in the streets. In this town was now repeated what had been remarked in the province of Quito, after the tremendous earthquake of 1797 ; a number of marriages were contracted between persons, who had neglected for many years to sanction their union by the sacerdotal benediction. Children found parents, by whom they had never till then been acknowledged ; restitutions were promised by persons, who had never been accused of fraud; and families, who had long been enemies, were drawn together by the tie of common calamity.'pp. 12–17.

We now proceed to accompany our travellers from the Caraccas across the vallies of Aragua, in their descent of the Rio Apure

x 3

to its junction with the Oroonoko, and up that river to the spot where the confluence of the Rio Meta (falling from the eastern Cordilleras) enlarges its noble stream, at which the present volume terminates. In tracing their route over this interesting portion of the new continent, we shall present our readers with such parts of the narrative as appear the most striking, either for novelty, beauty of description, or force of expression, connecting them with such an abstract only as may serve to convey some idea of the contents of the volume; omitting however the more scientific subjects, as being the least interesting to the great majority of readers, particularly those which relate to the geological construction of South America; a subject that, to render it intelligible, would of itself occupy nearly all the space which we have to bestow.

Following the right bank of the river Guayra, by a fine road partly scooped out of the rock, the two travellers passed La Vega, whose church displays itself in a picturesque manner on a range of hills covered with vegetation. The scattered houses surrounded with date trees seemed to proclaim the easy circumstances of their inhabitants. The rounded summit of Carapa, and the ridge of Galipano, crenated like a wall, were the only objects that in the basin of gneiss and mica slate below, impressed a character on the landscape. This part of the country furnishes abundance of peaches, quinces, and other European fruits for the market of Caraccas.

Beyond the village of Antimano the road becomes fatiguing, the valley narrows considerably, and the Guayra is crossed seventeen times between it and Ajuntas. This river is bordered with lata, a beautiful gramineous plant with distich leaves growing sometimes to the height of thirty feet, and to which our botanists have given the name of gynerium saccharoides. Every hut was surrounded with enormous trees of the aligator pear (laurus persea), at the foot of which the aristolochia, paullinia, and other creepers were seen to flourish. We have here a digression of several pages on the cultivation of coffee, which we shall pass over, and proceed with our travellers across the mountains of Higuerota, which separate the two vallies of Caraccas and Aragua, at 835 toises above the level of the ocean. The country had a savage aspect and was thickly wooded, but the plants of the valley of Caraccas gradually disappeared. The road however was much frequented; and long files of mules and Oxen were met at every step.

Descending the table-land of Buenavista, an abundant spring was observed, gushing from the gneiss, and forming several cascades surrounded with the richest vegetation;-among other fine plants were arborescent ferns, the trunks of which reached the

« AnteriorContinuar »