Page images


mit; contrary to the received opinion, that the Atlantic is a little higher than the South Sea. Trivial causes of a local nature, such as the configuration of the coast, currents and winds (as in the Straits of Babelmandel), may trouble the equilibrium which ought necessarily to exist between all the parts of the ocean. As the tides rise at Portobello to a third part of a metre *, and at Panama to four or five metres t, the levels of the two neighbouring seas ought to vary with the different establishments of the ports. But these trivial inequalities, far from obstructing hydraulical operations, would even be favourable for


We cannot doubt that if the isthmus of Panama were once burst by some similar catastrophe to that which opened the columns of Hercules i, the current of rotation in place of ascending towards the gulf of Mexico, and issuing through the canal of Bahama, would follow the same paa rallel from the coast of Paria to the Philippine islands. The effect of this opening, or new strait, would exiend much beyond the banks of Neufoundland, and would either occasion the disappearance or diminish the celerity of the Hotwater river, known by the name of Gulf-stream ,


* 13 inches. Trans. " ? † 13 or 16 feet. Trans.

Diodorus Siculus, lib. iv. p. 226. lib. xvii. p. 533. edit. Rhodom. . $ The Gulf-stream, on which Franklin and afterwards

which leaving Florida on the north-east, flows in the 430 of latitude to the east, and especially the south-east towards the coast of Africa. Such would be the effects of an inundation analogous to that of which the memory has been preserved in the traditions of the Samothracians. But shall we dare to compare the pitiful works of man with canals cut by nature herself, with straits like the Hellespont and the Dardanelles !

Strabo * appears inclined to believe that the sea will one day open the isthmus of Suez. No such catastrophe can be expected in the isthmus of Panama, unless enormous volcanic convulsions, very improbable in the actual state of repose of our planet, should occasion extrao, dinary revolutions. A tongue of land lengthened out from east to west in a direction almost parallel to that of the current of rotation escapes, as it were, the shock of the waves. The isthmus of Panama would be seriously threatened, if it extended from south to

Williams, have left us such valuable observations, carries ra. pidly the tropical waters to the northeru latitudes. It is occasioned by the current of rotation which strikes against the coasts of Veragua and Honduras, and ascending towards the gulf of Mexico, between Care Cutuche and Cape St. Antoine, issues througb the canal of Bahama. It is owing to this motion that the vegetable productions of the Antilles are carried to Norway, Ireland, and the Canaries. See the second volume of my voyage to the tropics, chap. i.

* Strabo, ed. Siebenkees, T. I, p. 156.

north, and was situated between the port of Car. thago and the mouth of the Rio San Juan, if the narrowest part of the new continent lay between the 10° and the 11° of latitude.

The navigation of the river Chagre is difficult, both on account of its sinuosities and the celurity of the current, frequently from one to two metres per second *. 'Th se sinuositi s however afford a counter current, by means of wh ch the smal, ves. sels called bongos, and chatas, ascund the river, either with oars, poles, or towing. Were these sinuositic's to be cut, and the old bed of the river to be dried up, this advantage would cease, and it would be infinitely difficult to arrive from the North Sea to Cruces.

From all the information which I could procure relating to this i thmus, while I rema ned at l'ura thagenu and Guayaquil, it app ars to me, that the expectation of a canal of seven meir st in depth, and irom twenty-two to twenty-eight mit es I in breadth, which, like a pass or a strait, should go from sea to sea, and admit the vessels which sail from Europe to the East Indies, ought to be completely abandoned. The elevation of The ground would force the engineer to have recourse either to subterraneous, or to the system

* From 3.29 to 6.56 feet. Trans. + 22 feet 11 inches. Trans.

From 72 feet 2 inches, to g1 feet 10 inches.


of sluices; and the merchandizes destined to pass the isthmus of Panama could only therefore be transported in flat-bottomed boats unable to keep the sea. Entrepots at Panama and Porto bello would be requisite. Every nation which wished to trade in this way would be dipendent on the masters of the isthmus and canal ; and this would be a very great inconvenience for the vessels despatched from Europe. Supposing then that this canal were cut, the greatest number of these vessels would probably continue their voyage round Cape Horn. We see that the passage of the Sound is still frequented, notwithstanding the existence of the Eyder canal, which connects the ocean with the Baltic sea.

It would be otherwise with the productions of western America, or the goods sent from Europe to the coast of the Pacific Ocean. These goods would cross the isthmus at less expense, and with less danger, particularly in time of war, than in doul,ling the south rn extremity of the new contin nt. In the present state of things, the carriage of three quintals on mule-back from Panama to Portobello costs from three to four piastres (from 1:5. Od. to 16s. 8d.) But the uncultivated state in which the goveriment allows th: isthmus to remain is such, that the carriage of the copper of Ch li, the q inquina of Peru, and the 60 or 70,000 vanegas of cacao * annually exported

* A vanega weighs 110 Castilian pounds.

by Guayaquil, across this neck of land, requires many more beasts of burden than can be procured, so that the slow and expensive na igation round Cape Horn is preferred.

In 1802 and 1803, when the Spanish commerce was every where harassed by the English cruizers, a great part of the cacao was carried across the kingdom of New Spain, and embarked at Vera Cruz for Cadiz. They preferred the passage from Guayaquil to Acapulco, and a land journey of a hundred leagues from Acapulco to Vera Cruz, to the danger of a long navigation by Cape Horn, and the difficulty of struggling with the current along the coasts of Peru and Chili. This example proves, that, if the construction of a canal across the is.hmus of Panama, or that of Guasacualco, abounds with too many difficulties from the mul. tiplicity of sluices, the commerce of America would gain the most important advantages from good causeways, carried from Tehuantepec to the Eme barcadero de la Cruz, and from Panama to Port tobello. It is true that in the isthmus, the pas. turage * to this day is very unfavou able to the nouri hment and multiplication of cattle; but it would be easy, in so fertile a soil, to form savannas by cutting down forests, or to cultivate the

* The assertion of Raynal (T. IV. p. 157) that domestic animals transported to Portobello lose their fecundity, should be considered as totally destitute of truth.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »