Page images
PDF
EPUB

ror of the inhabitants in this land on the morning of the 1st of May. I awoke at or near five o’clock, and finding the morning not yet advanced enough to rouse H****, to renew our visit to the sea, I threw myself again on the bed, and after some time, finding the crevice gave me less light, I concluded that we were about to get the genial showers expected about the opening of May, and again courted the drowsy god. At length I was roused by much talking in the street; which was strange to me, as on opening my eyes it was more than midnight darkness. A servant maid who had slept out, now arrived, and knocking loudly was admitted. Judge my surprise to learn that it was 8 o'clock; more than two hours had elapsed since the expected sun had not arisen, and that utter darkness covered both Heaven and earth, while dust fell in clouds from the skies, no longer visible. My girls, alarmed, ran to me with the dismal tale. The dust convinced me that we were under the influence of some volcanic eruption; I quieted their fears as well as I could, by representing it as at a great distance from us, and assuring them, that, however awful and terrific, it was a common and natural effect, frequently experienced in countries near volcanoes. I really imagined at first that our boiling spring at Swiner's Hall, had terminated as I had long expected (and still expect it some day will) in an eruption of its inflammable contents; but as no earthquake had preceded the darkness, and the dust was not hot, it seemed a proof of its distance from us; on opening a window it was impossible not to feel a horror the deepest and most sublime. There was a darkness, “visible” indeed. On looking upward, all was “dark, dark, dark,” as Milton says. No gleam, no distant ray; it was as if the Eternal had shut us up in his displeasure in utter darkness forever. It seemed to touch the eyeballs with blackness infinite and deep. Many thought that the sun was annihilated ; but those persons who had arisen early had seen him, or rather his place, before the atmosphere was completely filled. At 7 o'clock it was every where “Nox omnibus noctibus nigrior densior que.” What added to the horror of the scene was the consternation of the inhabitants moving to and fro with lanterns, and the solemn gloom which pervaded almost every countenance, as the feeble gleam of their light played across their features. “Animus meminisse horret.” The dust continued to fall in sprinkling showers all the forenoon. On our first rising it was half an inch deep in our yard. Our Hebrew neighbours flocked to their synagogue, and our church was filled with the devout or terrified of all colours. I attended my three girls in the morning costume of lantern and umbrella, “worn for use not shew,” to church, through a smart shower of ashes; and spite of my umbrella, my garments were completely

and thickly powdered; no penitent in the days of Job, could have exceeded my outward man. I reckon it among the great mercies of Heaven to me, that after the first terror was over, and I had recommended my spirit to its Creator, I felt a sacred composure and calm more consoling to my feelings at the time, and now more cordial to my memory than the richest treasure of earthly mould. In going to church it was not very encouraging to recollect that we had just read of the vast numbers collected in the places of worship to celebrate the holy day at Caraccas—all swallowed up ; but He who made us, is every where present, and never can we shun His appointment. H**** was with us and in good spirits. But what excited my surprise was to see at church some female countenances marked as it were by the hand of Heaven with a resignation and serenity, I may say a cheerfulness, that could spring from conscious innocence alone, fortified by the highest confidence in the Supreme. Previous to our going to church, Hoo accompanied me (aided by the many passing lanterns) to my sister Mary's ; we had ventured out without a lantern, but never could have reached our destination but for the transient gleam of the lights of other groping pilgrims. The wind blew the dust into our eyes; and it is a curious fact, that among the great number of persons who had their eyes incessantly filled with it, no ill effect has been sustained. In a few seconds the eye regained its usual healthy feel as if water only had dropped into it. I propose to trouble Dr. M. with a bottle of it as an exotic natural curiosity, which you may send to the Museum.* It seems to abound in nitre, as will appear by rubbing it on paper, and holding it to the candle. The magnet draws out particles of iron. You will find by the papers, that our anxieties were cleared up in a few days as to its origin, by an arrival from Saint Vincents, with intelligence of the dreadful eruption of the Souffriere. Our darkness however seems to have been more intense than theirs. Pliny gives a pretty accurate idea of it in his representation of that he experienced at Misenum ; but he who shall make the experiment of opening his eyes in a close room in the darkest of winter-nights, all lights extinguished, will have but a faint conception of the grand and profound sensation of horror that struck our souls on a first view of this unexpected change in our atmosphere. The darkness continued till past twelve o'clock; a twilight succeeded till night, sufficient to show us, far as the eye could reach, the whole face of nature covered with one coat of dust, varying in its depth from threefourths of an inch to an inch and a half. In Saint Andrew's

* A bottle of the dust is now in Peale’s Museum. VOL. VIII. T

and Saint Joseph's parishes, limbs of trees were broken down by the weight and force of the masses of heavy volcanic matter.

All around for nearly a fortnight, nothing has met our harassed eyes but the “omnia mutata, altoque cinere tanquam nive obducta:” would we could indeed exchange it for a view of refreshing snow. But He who orders all things, is merciful in all, and probably, however distressing this AFgyptian plague of dust is, it may leave a blessing of fertility amply compensating us for our present privation of comfort. For the first few days, it was impossible not to feel a sacred awe in traversing the streets upon this heap of powder, which rose in clouds after the impression of each succeeding foot, when we recollected the denunciation in the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy. On the first of May we always look for genial showers: we arose, and lo! dust and powder in the place of the fertilizing dews of Heaven, deep and drear, for the sun's precious light. On the night of the 15th we had the first fine shower of rain, and never shall I forget the delight which I experienced in my walk the next morning on viewing the renovated face of nature, and the truly celestial Garment, in which the Great Giver has drest our earth, restored. At this moment so much is there yet of circulating dust, that my ink thickens in my pen. We have had it in our beds and our food, and it has insinuated itself every where, almost with the tenuity of the air. Our houses and furniture previous to the rain no art could keep clean—Every chair shewed us, spite of continued exertion that, unto dust we must return. Yet how thankful should be our hearts that no earthquake reached us, and that the seat of real danger was so distant. There were during the night, as I learn, many explosions as of cannon in the air, which gave rise to a thousand lying rumours. The French fleet were off, with some ; our admiral dismasted, and martial law proclaimed. *Tis certain, the governor hearing all these reports, repaired to the castle, and had the troops put under arms during the darkness. In all ages and in all parts of the world, man is the same: Pliny speaks too of the real dangers magnified “fictis mentitisque terroribus,” and numberless were the phantoms conjured up by the imaginations of the populace.

[graphic][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »