Page images
PDF
EPUB

chivano, but which M. de Humboldt, in all probability, could not have heard of, as still existing in modern times. On the eastern coast of Lycia, and the western shore of the gulf of Adalia, a flame called

yanar is seen to issue from an opening about three feet in diameter, in the side of a mountain, and in shape resembling the mouth of an oven. Captain Beaufort of the royal navy, when surveying this part of the coast of Karamania, visited the spot. The mountain, like that of Cuchivano, was calcareous, being composed of a cruinbling serpentine rock, with loose blocks of limestone; there was not the least appearance of volcanic production; no tremor of the earth, no noises; neither stones, nor smoke, nor noxious vapours were emitted from the cavity, but a brilliant and perpetual flame issued forth, of an intense beat, and said to be inextinguishable by water : the remains of the walls which had formerly been built near the spot were scarcely discoloured; and trees, brushwood, and weeds grew close to this little crater, if so it might be called :thus, for the first time, we believe, has the Chimera of the ancients been discovered, after a lapse of more than two thousand years, on the very spot where they invariably placed it; and after the very name had for

ages

become a sort of byword in all the languages of modern Europe, implying, according to Johnson, 'a vain and wild fancy, as remote from reality as the existence of the poetical chimera.'

On the plateau of Cocollar, which our travellers crossed on their way to the mission of Guanaguana, they remained three days at the solitary habitation of a Spaniard, (who had accompanied them from Cumana,) no less delighted with the climate than the magnificent scenery around them.

• Nothing can be compared (they say) with the sense of that majestic stillness produced by the appearance of the sky in this solitary spot. At night-fall, while our eye was ranging over those meadows which bound the horizon, over that gently undulated table-land covered with grass and herbs, we fancied we saw at a distance, as in the steppes of the Oronoco, the surface of the ocean supporting the starry canopy of heaven. The tree under which we sat, the luminous insects fluttering in the air, the constellations glittering in the south, every thing seemed to say that we were far from our native land. If, in the midst of this exotic nature, our ear caught, from the bottom of a valley, the tinkling of a cowbell, or the roaring of a bull, the remembrance of our own country was forth with awakened. It was like the echo of distant sounds from beyond the seas, transporting us by its magic power from one hemisphere to the other. Strange wandering of the human imagination ! Endless şource of enjoyment and of pain !-398.

At Guanaguana they were received with the greatest civility by the old missionary. The village had not been established at this place more than thirty years, and as yet had no church. The good father, who during that period had been an inhabitant of the forests of America, observed, that the funds of the community, or the produce of the labour of the Indians, must first be employed in the construction of a house for the missionary, then for building the church, and, lastly, for clothing the Indians; and he gravely assured them that this order could not be departed from on any pretext; and the Indians, it seems, who fortunately prefer absolute nakedness to the lightest clothing, are by no means anxious for their turn to arrive. They had just finished the spacious dwelling of the padre, and we remarked,' says M. de Humboldt,' with some surprize, that this house, the top of which terminated in a terrace, was ornamented with a great number of chimneys resembling so many turrets; this, our host said, was to recal to bis recollection a country which was dear to him, and to remind him of the winters of Arragon in the midst of the heats of the torrid zone.'

ther,

The vallies of Guanaguana and Caripe are separated by a kind of dyke or calcareous ridge, well known by the name of Cuchilla de Guanaguana ; and along this ridge our travellers proceeded by a path sometimes not more than fourteen or fifteen inches in width, with a precipice of seven or eight hundred feet deep on either side; but the mules were so sure-footed as to inspire the greatest confidence. It is the same with horses and other beasts of burden in these mountainous countries, and nothing is more common, says our author, than to hear the mountaineers observe, I shall not give you the easiest going mule, but that which reasons the best, la mas racional :' this popular expression,' he adds, dictated by long experience, combats the system of animal machines better perhaps than all the arguments of speculative philosophy.'

At the convent of Caripe they met with a numerous society; several young monks, recently arrived from Spain, were on the point of being distributed to the different missions, while the old and infirm missionaries were seeking convalescence in the keen and salubrious air of the mountains. M. de Humboldt was surprized to find the Lettres Edifiantes, and the Traité d'Electricité de l'Abbé Nollet, on the same shelf with the Teatro Critico de Feijo. A capuchin had brought out with him a Spanish translation of the Chimie de Chaptal, with an intent to study it in solitude; but I doubt, coutinues our traveller, whetber this ardour for instruction will be lasting with a young devotee insulated on the banks of the Rio Tigre. He bears, however, honourable testimony to the liberal spirit of the Spanish missionaries. During our abode,' he says, 'in the convents and the Missions of America, we never experienced the slightest mark of intolerance. The monks of Caripe were not ignorant that I was born in the protestant part of Germany. Furnisbed with the orders of the court, I had no motive to conceal

from

ness.'

from them this fact; yet at no time did any sign of distrust, any indiscreet question, any attempt at controversy, lessen the value of an hospitality bestowed with so much good breeding and frank

An object of great curiosity was pointed out to our travellers at the head of the valley of Caripe; this was the grand cueva, or cavern of Guacharo. M. de Humboldt observes, that in a country where they love the marvellous, a cavern which gives birth to a river, and is inhabited by many thousands of nocturnal birds, the fat of which is employed in the Missions for dressing food, is an inexhaustible subject of conversation and discussion. There is nothing, however, very remarkable in this cavern, excepting its great length. The entrance is about eighty feet wide, by seventytwo high, and it preserves the same direction, the same width and nearly the same height for 1458 feet, which is said to be not one-half of its whole length. The luxuriance of the vegetation near the mouth gave to it a character which, in a less favoured climate, it would not have possessed; for, as our author very justly observes, it is with the openings of caverns as with the view of cascades, the character of the local scenery and of the surrounding country constitutes the principal charm. T'he bird of night which inhabits the Cueva de Guacharo is more curious than the cavern. It is a new genus, nearly allied to that of Caprimulgus, to which M. de Humboldt has given the significant name of Steatornis.

• It is difficult to form an idea of the frightful noise made by thousands of these birds in the dark part of the cavern. It can be compared only to that of our crows, which, in the fir forests of the north, live in society, and build their nests in trees which meet at the top. The shrill and piercing tones of the Guacharo reverberate from the arched roof, and echo repeats them in the depths of the cavern. The Indians, by fixing torches to the end of a long pole, pointed out to us the nests of these birds ; they were fifty or sixty feet above our heads, in funnelshaped holes, with which the whole roof of the grotto is riddled. The noise increased with our advance, and with the alarm of the birds at the flare of our 'copal torches. When it ceased for a few minutes around us, we heard distant moans from other branches of the cavern. The different flocks might be said to give alternate responses.

“ The Indians go once a year into the Cueva del Guacharo, about midsummer, furnished with poles, with which they destroy the greater part

of the nests. At this time many thousand birds are killod, and the old ones, as if to protect their broods, hover over the heads of the Indians, uttering the most dreadful shrieks. The young that fall to the ground are ripped open immediately. The peritoneum is thickly loaded with an unctuous substance, and a layer of fat runs from the abdomen to the anus, forming a kind of cushion between the bird's thighs. This abundance of fat in frugivorous animals not exposed to the light, and having few muscular motions, reminds us of the inclination to obesity long

observed

observed in geese and oxen. We know how very much darkness and repose favour this process.

European birds of night are meagre, because, in-' stead of feeding on fruit, like the Guacharo, they live on the scanty produce of the chase. At the period commonly termed the oil harvest, the Indians construct little habitations of palm leaves close to the opening, and even in the mouth of the cavern. We saw some remains of such still standing. Here, over a fire of dry sticks, the grease of the young birds just killed is melted and run into pots of white clay. This grease, known by the name of Guacharo butter, or oil, (manteca or aceibe,) is semi-liquid, transparent, and inodorous; and so pure, that it may be kept more than a twelvemonth without becoming rancid. At the Convent of Caripe, no oil but that of the cavern was used in the monks' kitchen, and we never found it give to the dish either a disagreeable taste or smell.”—p. 418.

The rest of the chapter is employed in a dissertation on the nature and origin of caverns, and on geological discussions which would occupy too much space, were we to indulge in a critical examination of them: we proceed, therefore, with our travellers to the mountain and forest of Santa Maria, the splendour and magnificence of the vegetation of which are described with the glow and enthusiasm of a poet as well as botanist. Here almost the whole fern tribe assumes the form and magnitude of trees; and here five new arborescent species of this cryptogamous plant were discovered, while, in the time of Linnæus, botavists were acquainted with four only on the two continents.

Fern-trees are observed to be generally much more rare than palms; nature having confined them to mild, humid, and shady situations. They shun the vertical rays of the sun; and, whilst the Pumos, the Corypha of the steppes, and others of the palm tribe of America, delight in the open burning plains, these arborescent ferns, which, viewed afar off, look like palms, retain the characteristics and habits of cryptogamous plants. They prefer solitude, twilight, and a moist, temperate, and stagnant atmosphere. If occasionally they descend toward the coast, it is only under the safeguard of a dense shade. The old trunks of the Cyathea and Meniscium are coated with a coal-like powder which (free, perhaps, from hydrogen) has a metallic lustre like graphite. No other species of vegetation presented this phenomenon; for the trunks of the Dicotyledons, notwithstanding the fierce heat of the climate, and the intensity of the light, are not blackened so much between the tropics as in the temperate zone.

The trunks of the ferns, which, like the Monocotyledons, increase in bulk by the remains of the petioles, may be said to commence their decay towards the centre, and that, being deprived of cortical vessels, by which the elaborated juices descend to the roots, they are more readily charred by the oxygen of the atmosphere. I brought to Europe specimens of these lustrous metallic powders, taken from very old trunks of Meniscium and Aspidium.

. As we progressively descended the mountain of Santa Maria, we VOL. XVIII. NO, XXXV.

found

K

found the ferns diminish, and the number of palms increase. The beautiful large-winged butterflies, the Nymphalæ, which fly to an amazing height, became more frequent. Every thing announced our ap: proach to the coast, and to a zone of which the mean temperature, in the day time, is from 28 to 30 centigrade degrees.'-pp. 437, 438.

The Mission of Catuaro was situated in a wild and romantie country: lofty trees of the native forest still surrounded the church; and tigers prowled by night, to carry off the hogs and poultry of the Indians. The curate is described as a doctor in theology, a little meagre man, of a petulant vivacity, querulous, dissatisfied, and possessed of an unhappy passion for what he called metaphysics. His notions of the innate wickedness of the Negroes, and the benefits which they derived from this state of slavery among the Christians, were somewhat different from those of our author.

• The mildness of the Spanish laws cannot be denied, when we compare them with the Black Code of most other nations which have possessions in the two Indias. But such is the condition of those negroes, who are insulated in spots which are hardly cleared, that justice, far from protecting them during their lives, has no power to punish even acts of barbarity that have caused their death. If an inquiry be instituted, the slave's death is attributed to ill-health, to the influence of a moist and fiery climate, or to the wounds which he has received, but which are declared to have been at first neither deep nor dangerous. The civil authority has no controul over what concerns domestic slavery; and nothing can be a greater mockery than the highly vaunted effect of those laws, which prescribe the shape of the whip and the number of lashes allowed to be inflicted at one time. Those who have not lived in the colonies, or who have dwelt only in the West India islands, generally imagine, that the master's interest in the preservation of his slaves must render their life more comfortable, in proportion to the smallness of their number; yet, even at Cariaco, a few weeks before my arrival in the province, a planter who possessed but eight negroes, caused the death of six, by flogging them in the most barbarous manner; thus wilfully destroying the greater part of his property. Two of the slaves expired on the spot. He embarked with the other four, who appeared more robust, for the port of Cumana; they died in the passage. This cruel deed had been preceded, the same year, by another, the circumstances of which were equally revolting. Enormous crimes like these are perpetrated almost with impunity: the spirit that dictated the laws is not that which presides over the execution of them. The governor of Cumana was an upright and humane man; but the forms of justice are laid down, and the governor's power does not extend to a reformation of abuses inherent in almost every system of European colonization.'-pp. 443, 444.

On the arrival of our travellers at Cariaco, they found a great proportion of its inhabitants contined to their hammocks by intermitting fevers, which M. de Humboldt satisfactorily accounts for

from

« PreviousContinue »