But it is not only the progress of ideas, and the conflict between two classes of different origin, which have induced the privileged castes to abandon their pretensions, or at least cautiously to conceal them. Aristocracy in the Spanish colonies has a counterpoise of another kind, the action of which becomes every day more powerful. A sentiment of equality, among the whites, has penetrated every bosom. Wherever men of colour are either considered as slaves or as having been enfranchised, that which constitutes nobility is hereditary liberty—the proud boast of having never reckoned among ancestors any but freemen. In the colonies, the colour of the skin is the real badge of nobility. In Mexico, as well as Peru, at Caracas as in the island of Cuba, a bare-footed fellow with a white skin, is often heard to exclaim: "Does that rich man think himself whiter than I am?" The population which Europe pours into America being very considerable, it may easily be supposed, that the axiom, 'every white man is noble' (todo blanco es caballero), must singularly wound the pretensions of many ancient and illustrious European families. But it may be further observed, that the truth of this axiom has long since been acknowledged in Spain, among a people justly celebrated for probity, industry, and national spirit. Every Biscayan calls himself noble; and there being a greater number of Biscayans in America and the Philippine Islands, than in the Peninsula, the whites of that race have contributed, in no small degree, to propagate in the colonies the system of equality among all men whose blood has not been mixed with that of the African race.
Moreover, the countries of which the inhabitants, even without a representative government, or any institution of peerage, annex so much importance to genealogy and the advantages of birth, are not always those in which family aristocracy is most offensive. We do not find among the natives of Spanish origin, that cold and assuming air which the character of modern civilization seems to have rendered less common in Spain than in the rest of Europe. Conviviality, candour, and great simplicity of manner, unite the different classes of society in the colonies, as well as in the mother-country. It may even be said, that the expression of vanity and self-love becomes less offensive, when it retains something of simplicity and frankness.
I found in several families at Caracas a love of information, an acquaintance with the masterpieces of French and Italian literature, and a marked predilection for music, which is greatly cultivated, and which (as always results from a taste for the fine arts) brings the different classes of society nearer to each other. The mathematical sciences, drawing, and painting, cannot here boast of any of those establishments with which royal munificence and the patriotic zeal of the inhabitants have enriched Mexico. In the midst of the marvels of nature, so rich in interesting productions, it is strange that we found no person on this coast devoted to the study of plants and minerals. In a Franciscan convent I met, it is true, with an old monk who drew up the almanac for all the provinces of Venezuela, and who possessed some accurate knowledge of astronomy. Our instruments interested him deeply, and one day our house was filled with all the monks of San Francisco, begging to see a dipping-needle. The curiosity excited by physical phenomena is naturally great in countries undermined by volcanic fires, and in a climate where nature is at once so majestic and so mysteriously convulsed.
When we remember, that in the United States of North America, newspapers are published in small towns not containing more than three thousand inhabitants, it seems surprising that Caracas, with a population of forty or fifty thousand souls, should have possessed no printing office before 1806; for we cannot give the name of a printing establishment to a few presses which served only from year to year to promulgate an almanac of a few pages, or the pastoral letter of a bishop. Though the number of those who feel reading to be a necessity is not very considerable, even in the Spanish colonies most advanced in civilization, yet it would be unjust to reproach the colonists for a state of intellectual lassitude which has been the result of a jealous policy. A Frenchman, named Delpeche, has the merit of having established the first printing office in Caracas. It appears somewhat extraordinary that an establishment of this kind should have followed, and not preceded, a political revolution.
In a country abounding in such magnificent scenery, and at a period when, notwithstanding some symptoms of popular commotion, most of the inhabitants seem only to direct attention to physical objects, such as the fertility of the year, the long drought, or the conflicting winds of Petare and Catia, I expected to find many individuals well acquainted with the lofty surrounding mountains. But I was disappointed; and we could not find in Caracas a single person who had visited the summit of the Silla. Hunters do not ascend so high on the ridges of mountains; and in these countries journeys are not undertaken for such purposes as gathering alpine plants, carrying a barometer to an elevated point, or examining the nature of rocks. Accustomed to a uniform and domestic life, the people dread fatigue and sudden changes of climate. They seem to live not to enjoy life, but only to prolong it.
Our walks led us often in the direction of two coffee plantations, the proprietors of which, Don Andres de Ibarra and M. Blandin, were men of agreeable manners. These plantations were situated opposite the Silla de Caracas. Surveying, by a telescope, the steep declivity of the mountains, and the form of the two peaks by which it is terminated, we could form an idea of the difficulties we should have to encounter in reaching its summit. Angles of elevation, taken with the sextant at our house, had led me to believe that the summit was not so high above sea-level as the great square of Quito. This estimate was far from corresponding with the notions entertained by the inhabitants of the city. Mountains which command great towns, have acquired, from that very circumstance, an extraordinary celebrity in both continents. Long before they have been accurately measured, a conventional height is assigned to them; and to entertain the least doubt respecting that height is to wound a national prejudice.
The captain-general, Senor de Guevara, directed the teniente of Chacao to furnish us with guides to conduct us on our ascent of the Silla. These guides were negroes, and they knew something of the path leading over the ridge of the mountain, near the western peak of the Silla. This path is frequented by smugglers, but neither the guides, nor the most experienced of the militia, accustomed to pursue the smugglers in these wild spots, had been on the eastern peak, forming the most elevated summit of the Silla. During the whole month of December, the mountain (of which the angles of elevation made me acquainted with the effects of the terrestrial refractions) had appeared only five times free of clouds. In this season two serene days seldom succeed each other, and we were therefore advised not to choose a clear day for our excursion, but rather a time when, the clouds not being elevated, we might hope, after having crossed the first layer of vapours uniformly spread, to enter into a dry and transparent air. We passed the night of the 2nd of January in the Estancia de Gallegos, a plantation of coffee-trees, near which the little river of Chacaito, flowing in a luxuriantly shaded ravine, forms some fine cascades in descending the mountains. The night was pretty clear; and though on the day preceding a fatiguing journey it might have been well to have enjoyed some repose, M. Bonpland and I passed the whole night in watching three occultations of the satellites of Jupiter. I had previously determined the instant of the observation, but we missed them all, owing to some error of calculation in the Connaissance des Temps. The apparent time had been mistaken for mean time.
I was much disappointed by this accident; and after having observed at the foot of the mountain the intensity of the magnetic forces, before sunrise, we set out at five in the morning, accompanied by slaves carrying our instruments. Our party consisted of eighteen persons, and we all walked one behind another, in a narrow path, traced on a steep acclivity, covered with turf. We endeavoured first to reach a hill, which towards the south-east seems to form a promontory of the Silla. It is connected with the body of the mountain by a narrow dyke, called by the shepherds the Gate, or Puerta de la Silla. We reached this dyke about seven. The morning was fine and cool, and the sky till then seemed to favour our excursion. I saw that the thermometer kept a little below 14 degrees (11.2 degrees Reaum.). The barometer showed that we were already six hundred and eighty-five toises above the level of the sea, that is, nearly eighty toises higher than at the Venta, where we enjoyed so magnificent a view of the coast. Our guides thought that it would require six hours more to reach the summit of the Silla.
We crossed a narrow dyke of rocks covered with turf; which led us from the promontory of the Puerta to the ridge of the great mountain. Here the eye looks down on two valleys, or rather narrow defiles, filled with thick vegetation. On the right is perceived the ravine which descends between the two peaks to the farm of Munoz; on the left we see the defile of Chacaito, with its waters flowing out near the farm of Gallegos. The roaring of the cascades is heard, while the water is unseen, being concealed by thick groves of erythrina, clusia, and the Indian fig-tree.* (* Ficus nymphaeifolia, Erythrina mitis. Two fine species of mimosa are found in the same valley; Inga fastuosa, and I. cinerea.) Nothing can be more picturesque, in a climate where so many plants have broad, large, shining, and coriaceous leaves, than the aspect of trees when the spectator looks down from a great height above them, and when they are illumined by the almost perpendicular rays of the sun.
From the Puerta de la Silla the steepness of the ascent increases, and we were obliged to incline our bodies considerably forwards as we advanced. The slope is often from 30 to 32 degrees.* (* Since my experiments on slopes, mentioned above in Chapter 1.2, I have discovered in the Figure de la Terre of Bouguer, a passage, which shows that this astronomer, whose opinions are of such weight, considered also 36 degrees as the inclination of a slope quite inaccessible, if the nature of the ground did not admit of forming steps with the foot.) We felt the want of cramp-irons, or sticks shod with iron. Short grass covered the rocks of gneiss, and it was equally impossible to hold by the grass, or to form steps as we might have done in softer ground. This ascent, which was attended with more fatigue than danger, discouraged those who accompanied us from the town, and who were unaccustomed to climb mountains. We lost a great deal of time in waiting for them, and we did not resolve to proceed alone till we saw them descending the mountain instead of climbing up it. The weather was becoming cloudy; the mist already issued in the form of smoke, and in slender and perpendicular streaks, from a small humid wood which bordered the region of alpine savannahs above us. It seemed as if a fire had burst forth at once on several points of the forest. These streaks of vapour gradually accumulated together, and rising above the ground, were carried along by the morning breeze, and glided like a light cloud over the rounded summit of the mountain.
M. Bonpland and I foresaw from these infallible signs, that we should soon be covered by a thick fog; and lest our guides should take advantage of this circumstance and leave us, we obliged those who carried the most necessary instruments to precede us. We continued climbing the slopes which lead towards the ravine of Chacaito. The familiar loquacity of the Creole blacks formed a striking contrast with the taciturn gravity of the Indians, who had constantly accompanied us in the missions of Caripe. The negroes amused themselves by laughing at the persons who had been in such haste to abandon an expedition so long in preparation; above all, they did not spare a young Capuchin monk, a professor of mathematics, who never ceased to boast of the superior physical strength and courage possessed by all classes of European Spaniards over those born in Spanish America. He had provided himself with long slips of white paper, which were to be cut, and flung on the savannah, to indicate to those who might stray behind, the direction they ought to follow. The professor had even promised the friars of his order to fire off some rockets, to announce to the whole town of Caracas that we had succeeded in an enterprise which to him appeared of the utmost importance. He had forgotten that his long and heavy garments would embarrass him in the ascent. Having lost courage long before the creoles, he passed the rest of the day in a neighbouring plantation, gazing at us through a glass directed to the Silla, as we climbed the mountain. Unfortunately for us, he had taken charge of the water and the provision so necessary in an excursion to the mountains. The slaves, who were to rejoin us, were so long detained by him, that they arrived very late, and we were ten hours without either bread or water.
The eastern peak is the most elevated of the two which form the summit of the mountain, and to this we directed our course with our instruments. The hollow between these two peaks has suggested the Spanish name of Silla (saddle), which is given to the whole mountain. The narrow defile which we have already mentioned, descends from this hollow toward the valley of Caracas, commencing near the western dome. The eastern summit is accessible only by going first to the west of the ravine over the promontory of the Puerta, proceeding straight forward to the lower summit; and not turning to the east till the ridge, or the hollow of the Silla between the two peaks, is nearly reached. The general aspect of the mountain points out this path; the rocks being so steep on the east of the ravine that it would be extremely difficult to reach the summit of the Silla by ascending straight to the eastern dome, instead of going by the way of the Puerta.
From the foot of the cascade of Chacaito to one thousand toises of elevation, we found only savannahs. Two small liliaceous plants, with yellow flowers,* alone lift up their heads, among the grasses which cover the rocks. (* Cypura martinicensis, and Sisyrinchium iridifolium. This last is found also near the Venta of La Guayra, at 600 toises of elevation.) A few brambles* (* Rubus jamaicensis.) remind us of the form of our European vegetation. We in vain hoped to find on the mountains of Caracas, and subsequently on the back of the Andes, an eglantine near these brambles. We did not find one indigenous rose-tree in all South America, notwithstanding the analogy existing between the climates of the high mountains of the torrid zone and the climate of our temperate zone. It appears that this charming shrub is wanting in all the southern hemisphere, within and beyond the tropics. It was only on the Mexican mountains that we were fortunate enough to discover, in the nineteenth degree of latitude, American eglantines.* (* M. Redoute, in his superb work on rose-trees, has given our Mexican eglantine, under the name of Rosier de Montezuma, Montezuma rose.)
We were sometimes so enveloped in mist, that we could not, without difficulty, find our way. At this height there is no path, and we were obliged to climb with our hands, when our feet failed us, on the steep and slippery acclivity. A vein filled with porcelain-clay attracted our attention.* (* The breadth of the vein is three feet. This porcelain-clay, when moistened, readily absorbs oxygen from the atmosphere. I found, at Caracas, the residual nitrogen very slightly mingled with carbonic acid, though the experiment was made in phials with ground-glass stoppers, not filled with water.) It is of snowy whiteness, and is no doubt the remains of a decomposed feldspar. I forwarded a considerable portion of it to the intendant of the province. In a country where fuel is not scarce, a mixture of refractory earths may be useful, to improve the earthenware, and even the bricks. Every time that the clouds surrounded us, the thermometer sunk as low as 12 degrees (to 9.6 degrees R.); with a serene sky it rose to 21 degrees. These observations were made in the shade. But it is difficult, on such rapid declivities, covered with a dry, shining, yellow turf, to avoid the effects of radiant heat. We were at nine hundred and forty toises of elevation; and yet at the same height, towards the east, we perceived in a ravine, not merely a few solitary palm-trees, but a whole grove. It was the palma real; probably a species of the genus Oreodoxa. This group of palms, at so considerable an elevation, formed a striking contrast with the willows* scattered on the depth of the more temperate valley of Caracas. (* Salix Humboldtiana of Willdenouw. On the alpine palm-trees, see my Prolegomena de Dist. Plant. page 235.) We here discovered plants of European forms, situated below those of the torrid zone.
After proceeding for the space of four hours across the savannahs, we entered into a little wood composed of shrubs and small trees, called el Pejual; doubtless from the great abundance here of the pejoa (Gaultheria odorata), a plant with very odoriferous leaves.* (* It is a great advantage of the Spanish language, and a peculiarity which it shares in common with the Latin, that, from the name of a tree, may be derived a word designating an association or group of trees of the same species. Thus are formed the words olivar, robledar, and pinal, from olivo, roble, and pino. The Hispano-Americans have added tunal, pejual, guayaval, etc., places where a great many Cactuses, Gualtheria odoratas, and Psidiums, grow together.) The steepness of the mountain became less considerable, and we felt an indescribable pleasure in examining the plants of this region. Nowhere, perhaps, can be found collected together, in so small a space, productions so beautiful, and so remarkable in regard to the geography of plants. At the height of a thousand toises, the lofty savannahs of the hills terminate in a zone of shrubs which, by their appearance, their tortuous branches, their stiff leaves, and the magnitude and beauty of their purple flowers, remind us of what is called, in the Cordilleras of the Andes, the vegetation of the paramos and the punas.* (* For the explanation of these words, see above Chapter 1.5.) We there find the family of the alpine rhododendrons, the thibaudias, the andromedas, the vacciniums, and those befarias with resinous leaves, which we have several times compared to the rhododendron of our European Alps.
Even when nature does not produce the same species in analogous climates, either in the plains of isothermal parallels,* (We may compare together either latitudes which in the same hemisphere present the same mean temperature (as, for instance, Pennsylvania and the central part of France, Chile and the southern part of New Holland); or we may consider the relations that may exist between the vegetation of the two hemispheres under isothermal parallels.) or on table-lands, the temperature of which resembles that of places nearer the poles,* we still remark a striking resemblance of appearance and physiognomy in the vegetation of the most distant countries. (* The geography of plants comprises not merely an examination of the analogies observed in the same hemisphere; as between the vegetation of the Pyrenees and that of the Scandinavian plains; or between that of the Cordilleras of Peru and of the coasts of Chile. It also investigates the relations between the alpine plants of both hemispheres. It compares the vegetation of the Alleghanies and the Cordilleras of Mexico, with that of the mountains of Chile and Brazil. Bearing in mind that every isothermal line has an alpine branch (as, for instance, that which connects Upsala with a point in the Swiss Alps), the great problem of the analogy of vegetable forms may be defined as follows: 1st, examining in each hemisphere, and at the level of the coasts, the vegetation on the same isothermal line, especially near convex or concave summits; 2nd, comparing, with respect to the form of plants, on the same isothermal line north and south of the equator, the alpine branch with that traced in the plains; 3rd, comparing the vegetation on homonymous isothermal lines in the two hemispheres, either in the low regions, or in the alpine regions.) This phenomenon is one of the most curious in the history of organic forms. I say the history; for in vain would reason forbid man to form hypotheses on the origin of things; he still goes on puzzling himself with insoluble problems relating to the distribution of beings.
A gramen of Switzerland grows on the granitic rocks of the straits of Magellan.* (* Phleum alpinum, examined by Mr. Brown. The investigations of this great botanist prove that a certain number of plants are at once common to both hemispheres. Potentilla anserina, Prunella vulgaris, Scirpus mucronatus, and Panicum crus-galli, grow in Germany, in Australia, and in Pennsylvania.) New Holland contains above forty European phanerogamous plants: and the greater number of those plants, which are found equally in the temperate zones of both hemispheres, are entirely wanting in the intermediary or equinoctial region, as well in the plains as on the mountains. A downy-leaved violet, which terminates in some sort the zone of the phanerogamous plants at Teneriffe, and which was long thought peculiar to that island,* is seen three hundred leagues farther north, near the snowy summit of the Pyrenees. (* The Viola cheiranthifolia has been found by MM. Kunth and Von Buch among the alpine plants which Jussieu brought from the Pyrenees.) Gramina and cyperaceous plants of Germany, Arabia, and Senegal, have been recognized among those that were gathered by M. Bonpland and myself on the cold table-lands of Mexico, along the burning shores of the Orinoco, and in the southern hemisphere on the Andes and Quito.* (* Cyperus mucronatus, Poa eragrostis, Festuca myurus, Andropogos avenaceus, Lapago racemosa. (See the Nova Genera et Species Plantarum volume 1 page 25.)) How can we conceive the migration of plants through regions now covered by the ocean? How have the germs of organic life, which resemble each other in their appearance, and even in their internal structure, unfolded themselves at unequal distances from the poles and from the surface of the seas, wherever places so distant present any analogy of temperature? Notwithstanding the influence exercised on the vital functions of plants by the pressure of the air, and the greater or less extinction of light, heat, unequally distributed in different seasons of the year, must doubtless be considered as the most powerful stimulus of vegetation.
The number of identical species in the two continents and in the two hemispheres is far less than the statements of early travellers would lead us to believe. The lofty mountains of equinoctial America have certainly plantains, valerians, arenarias, ranunculuses, medlars, oaks, and pines, which from their physiognomy we might confound with those of Europe; but they are all specifically different. When nature does not present the same species, she loves to repeat the same genera. Neighbouring species are often placed at enormous distances from each other, in the low regions of the temperate zone, and on the alpine heights of the equator. At other times (and the Silla of Caracas affords a striking example of this phenomenon), they are not the European genera, which have sent species to people like colonists the mountains of the torrid zone, but genera of the same tribe, difficult to be distinguished by their appearance, which take the place of each other in different latitudes.
The mountains of New Grenada surrounding the table-lands of Bogota are more than two hundred leagues distant from those of Caracas, and yet the Silla, the only elevated peak in the chain of low mountains, presents those singular groupings of befarias with purple flowers, of andromedas, of gualtherias, of myrtilli, of uvas camaronas,* (* The names vine-tree, and uvas camaronas, are given in the Andes to plants of the genus Thibaudia, on account of their large succulent fruits. Thus the ancient botanists gave the name of bear's vine, uva ursi, and vine of Mount Ida (Vitis idaea), to an arbutus and a myrtillus, which belong, like the thibaudia, to the family of the Ericineae.) of nerteras, and of aralias with hoary leaves,* (* Nertera depressa, Aralia reticulata, Hedyotis blaerioides.) which characterize the vegetation of the paramos on the high Cordilleras of Santa Fe. We found the same Thibaudia glandulosa at the entrance of the table-land of Bogota, and in the Pejual of the Silla. The coast-chain of Caracas is unquestionably connected (by the Torito, the Palomera, Tocuyo, and the paramos of Rosas, of Bocono, and of Niquitao) with the high Cordilleras of Merida, Pamplona, and Santa Fe; but from the Silla to Tocuyo, along a distance of seventy leagues, the mountains of Caracas are so low, that the shrubs of the family of the ericineous plants, just cited, do not find the cold climate which is necessary for their development. Supposing, as is probable, that the thibaudias and the rhododendron of the Andes, or befaria, exist in the paramo of Niquitao and in the Sierra de Merida, covered with eternal snow, these plants would nevertheless want a ridge sufficiently lofty and long for their migration towards the Silla of Caracas.
The more we study the distribution of organized beings on the globe, the more we are inclined, if not to abandon the ideas of migration, at least to consider them as hypotheses not entirely satisfactory. The chain of the Andes divides the whole of South America into two unequal longitudinal parts. At the foot of this chain, on the east and west, we found a great number of plants specifically the same. The various passages of the Cordilleras nowhere permit the vegetable productions of the warm regions to proceed from the coasts of the Pacific to the banks of the Amazon. When a peak attains a great elevation, either in the middle of very low mountains and plains, or in the centre of an archipelago heaved up by volcanic fires, its summit is covered with alpine plants, many of which are again found, at immense distances, on other mountains having an analogous climate. Such are the general phenomena of the distribution of plants.
It is now said that a mountain is high enough to enter into the limits of the rhododendrons and the befarias, as it has long been said that such a mountain reached the limit of perpetual snow. In using this expression, it is tacitly admitted, that under the influence of certain temperatures, certain vegetable forms must necessarily be developed. Such a supposition, however, taken in all its generality, is not strictly accurate. The pines of Mexico are wanting on the Cordilleras of Peru. The Silla of Caracas is not covered with the oaks which flourish in New Grenada at the same height. Identity of forms indicates an analogy of climate; but in similar climates the species may be singularly diversified.
The charming rhododendron of the Andes (the befaria) was first described by M. Mutis, who observed it near Pamplona and Santa Fe de Bogota, in the fourth and seventh degree of north latitude. It was so little known before our expedition to the Silla, that it was scarcely to be found in any herbal in Europe. The learned editors of the Flora of Peru had even described it under another name, that of acunna. In the same manner as the rhododendrons of Lapland, Caucasus, and the Alps* (* Rhododendron lapponicum, R. caucasicum, R. ferrugineum, and R. hirsutum.) differ from each other, the two species of befaria we brought from the Silla* (* Befaria glauca, B. ledifolia.) are also specifically different from that of Santa Fe and Bogota.* (* Befaria aestuans, and B. resinosa.) Near the equator the rhododendrons of the Andes (Particularly B. aestuans of Mutis, and two new species of the southern hemisphere, which we have described under the name of B. coarctata, and B. grandiflora.) cover the mountains as far as the highest paramos, at sixteen and seventeen hundred toises of elevation. Advancing northward, on the Silla de Caracas, we find them much lower, a little below one thousand toises. The befaria recently discovered in Florida, in latitude 30 degrees, grows even on hills of small elevation. Thus in a space of six hundred leagues in latitude, these shrubs descend towards the plains in proportion as their distance from the equator augments. The rhododendron of Lapland grows also at eight or nine hundred toises lower than the rhododendron of the Alps and the Pyrenees. We were surprised at not meeting with any species of befaria in the mountains of Mexico, between the rhododendrons of Santa Fe and Caracas, and those of Florida.
In the small grove which crowns the Silla, the Befaria ledifolia is only three or four feet high. The trunk is divided from its root into a great many slender and even verticillate branches. The leaves are oval, lanceolate, glaucous on their inferior part, and curled at the edges. The whole plant is covered with long and viscous hairs, and emits a very agreeable resinous smell. The bees visit its fine purple flowers, which are very abundant, as in all the alpine plants, and, when in full blossom, they are often nearly an inch wide.
The rhododendron of Switzerland, in those places where it grows, at the elevation of between eight hundred and a thousand toises, belongs to a climate, the mean temperature of which is +2 and-1 degrees, like that of the plains of Lapland. In this zone the coldest months are-4, and-10 degrees: the hottest, 12 and 7 degrees. Thermometrical observations, made at the same heights and in the same latitudes, render it probable that, at the Pejual of the Silla, one thousand toises above the Caribbean Sea, the mean temperature of the air is still 17 or 18 degrees; and that the thermometer keeps, in the coolest season, between 15 and 20 degrees in the day, and in the night between 10 and 12 degrees. At the hospital of St. Gothard, situated nearly on the highest limit of the rhododendron of the Alps, the maximum of heat, in the month of August at noon, in the shade, is usually 12 or 13 degrees; in the night, at the same season, the air is cooled by the radiation of the soil down to +1 or-1.5 degrees. Under the same barometric pressure, consequently at the same height, but thirty degrees of latitude nearer the equator, the befaria of the Silla is often, at noon, in the sun, exposed to a heat of 23 or 24 degrees. The greatest nocturnal refrigeration probably never exceeds 7 degrees. We have carefully compared the climate, under the influence of which, at different latitudes, two groups of plants of the same family vegetate at equal heights above the level of the sea. The results would have been far different, had we compared zones equally distant, either from the perpetual snow, or from the isothermal line of 0 degrees.* (* The stratum of air, the mean temperature of which is 0 degrees, and which scarcely coincides with the superior limit of perpetual snow, is found in the parallel of the rhododendrons of Switzerland at nine hundred toises; in the parallel of the befarias of Caracas, at two thousand seven hundred toises of elevation.)
In the little thicket of the Pejual, near the purple-flowered befaria, grows a heath-leaved hedyotis, eight feet high; the caparosa,* which is a large arborescent hypericum (* Vismia caparosa (a loranthus clings to this plant, and appropriates to itself the yellow juice of the vismia); Davallia meifolia, Heracium avilae, Aralia arborea, Jacq., and Lepidium virginicum. Two new species of lycopodium, the thyoides, and the aristatum, are seen lower down, near the Puerto de la Silla.); a lepidium, which appears identical with that of Virginia; and lastly, lycopodiaceous plants and mosses, which cover the rocks and roots of the trees. That which gives most celebrity in the country to the little thicket, is a shrub ten or fifteen feet high, of the corymbiferous family. The Creoles call it incense (incienso).* (* Trixis nereifolia of M. Bonpland.) Its tough and crenate leaves, as well as the extremities of the branches, are covered with a white wool. It is a new species of Trixis, extremely resinous, the flowers of which have the agreeable odour of storax. This smell is very different from that emitted by the leaves of the Trixis terebinthinacea of the mountains of Jamaica, opposite to those of Caracas. The people sometimes mix the incienso of the Silla with the flowers of the pevetera, another composite plant, the smell of which resembles that of the heliotropium of Peru. The pevetera does not, however, grow on the mountains so high as the zone of the befarias; it vegetates in the valley of Chacao, and the ladies of Caracas prepare from it an extremely pleasant odoriferous water.
We spent a long time in examining the fine resinous and fragrant plants of the Pejual. The sky became more and more cloudy, and the thermometer sank below 11 degrees, a temperature at which, in this zone, people begin to suffer from the cold. Quitting the little thicket of alpine plants, we found ourselves again in a savannah. We climbed over a part of the western dome, in order to descend into the hollow of the Silla, a valley which separates the two summits of the mountain. We there had great difficulties to overcome, occasioned by the force of the vegetation. A botanist would not readily guess that the thick wood covering this valley is formed by the assemblage of a plant of the musaceous family.* (*Scitamineous plants, or family of the plantains.) It is probably a maranta, or a heliconia; its leaves are large and shining; it reaches the height of fourteen or fifteen feet, and its succulent stalks grow near one another like the stems of the reeds found in the humid regions of the south of Europe.* (* Arundo donax.) We were obliged to cut our way through this forest. The negroes walked before with their cutlasses or machetes. The people confound this alpine scitamineous plant with the arborescent gramina, under the name of carice. We saw neither its fruit nor flowers. We are surprised to meet with a monocotyledonous family, believed to be exclusively found in the hot and low regions of the tropics, at eleven hundred toises of elevation; much higher than the andromedas, the thibaudias, and the rhododendron of the Cordilleras.* (* Befaria.) In a chain of mountains no less elevated, and more northern (the Blue Mountains of Jamaica), the Heliconia of the parrots and the bihai, rather grow in the alpine shaded situations.* (* Heliconia psittacorum, and H. bihai. These two heliconias are very common in the plains of Terra Firma.)
Wandering in this thick wood of musaceae or arborescent plants, we constantly directed our course towards the eastern peak, which we perceived from time to time through an opening. On a sudden we found ourselves enveloped in a thick mist; the compass alone could guide us; but in advancing northward we were in danger at every step of finding ourselves on the brink of that enormous wall of rocks, which descends almost perpendicularly to the depth of six thousand feet towards the sea. We were obliged to halt. Surrounded by clouds sweeping the ground, we began to doubt whether we should reach the eastern peak before night. Happily, the negroes who carried our water and provisions, rejoined us, and we resolved to take some refreshment. Our repast did not last long. Possibly the Capuchin father had not thought of the great number of persons who accompanied us, or perhaps the slaves had made free with our provisions on the way; be that as it may, we found nothing but olives, and scarcely any bread. Horace, in his retreat at Tibur, never boasted of a repast more light and frugal; but olives, which might have afforded a satisfactory meal to a poet, devoted to study, and leading a sedentary life, appeared an aliment by no means sufficiently substantial for travellers climbing mountains. We had watched the greater part of the night, and we walked for nine hours without finding a single spring. Our guides were discouraged; they wished to go back, and we had great difficulty in preventing them.
In the midst of the mist I made trial of the electrometer of Volta, armed with a smoking match. Though very near a thick wood of heliconias, I obtained very sensible signs of atmospheric electricity. It often varied from positive to negative, its intensity changing every instant. These variations, and the conflict of several small currents of air, which divided the mist, and transformed it into clouds, the borders of which were visible, appeared to me infallible prognostics of a change in the weather. It was only two o'clock in the afternoon; we entertained some hope of reaching the eastern summit of the Silla before sunset, and of re-descending into the valley separating the two peaks, intending there to pass the night, to light a great fire, and to make our negroes construct a hut with the leaves of the heliconia. We sent off half of our servants with orders to hasten the next morning to meet us, not with olives, but with a supply of salt beef.
We had scarcely made these arrangements when the east wind began to blow violently from the sea. The thermometer rose to 12.5 degrees. It was no doubt an ascending wind, which, by heightening the temperature, dissolved the vapours. In less than two minutes the clouds dispersed, and the two domes of the Silla appeared to us singularly near. We opened the barometer in the lowest part of the hollow that separates the two summits, near a little pool of very muddy water. Here, as in the West India Islands, marshy plains are found at great elevations; not because the woody mountains attract the clouds, but because they condense the vapours by the effect of nocturnal refrigeration, occasioned by the radiation of heat from the ground, and from the parenchyma of the leaves. The mercury was at 21 inches 5.7 lines. We shaped our course direct to the eastern summit. The obstruction caused by the vegetation gradually diminished; it was, however, necessary to cut down some heliconias; but these arborescent plants were not now very thick or high. The peaks of the Silla themselves, as we have several times mentioned, are covered only with gramina and small shrubs of befaria. Their barrenness, however, is not owing to their height: the limit of trees in this region is four hundred toises higher; since, judging according to the analogy of other mountains, this limit would be found here only at a height of eighteen hundred toises. The absence of large trees on the two rocky summits of the Silla may be attributed to the aridity of the soil, the violence of the winds blowing from the sea, and the conflagrations so frequent in all the mountains of the equinoctial region.
To reach the eastern peak, which is the highest, it is necessary to approach as near as possible the great precipice which descends towards Caravalleda and the coast. The gneiss as far as this spot preserves its lamellar texture and its primitive direction; but where we climbed the summit of the Silla, we found it had passed into granite. Its texture becomes granular; the mica, less frequent, is more unequally spread through the rock. Instead of garnets we met with a few solitary crystals of hornblende. It is, however, not a syenite, but rather a granite of new formation. We were three quarters of an hour in reaching the summit of the pyramid. This part of the way is not dangerous, provided the traveller carefully examines the stability of each fragment of rock on which he places his foot. The granite superposed on the gneiss does not present a regular separation into beds: it is divided by clefts, which often cross one another at right angles. Prismatic blocks, one foot wide and twelve long, stand out from the ground obliquely, and appear on the edges of the precipice like enormous beams suspended over the abyss.
Having arrived at the summit, we enjoyed, for a few minutes only, the serenity of the sky. The eye ranged over a vast extent of country: looking down to the north was the sea, and to the south, the fertile valley of Caracas. The barometer was at 20 inches 7.6 lines; the thermometer at 13.7 degrees. We were at thirteen hundred and fifty toises of elevation. We gazed on an extent of sea, the radius of which was thirty-six leagues. Persons who are affected by looking downward from a considerable height should remain at the centre of the small flat which crowns the eastern summit of the Silla. The mountain is not very remarkable for height: it is nearly eighty toises lower than the Canigou; but it is distinguished among all the mountains I have visited by an enormous precipice on the side next the sea. The coast forms only a narrow border; and looking from the summit of the pyramid on the houses of Caravalleda, this wall of rocks seems, by an optical illusion, to be nearly perpendicular. The real slope of the declivity appeared to me, according to an exact calculation, 53 degrees 28 minutes.* (* Observations of the latitude give for the horizontal distance between the foot of the mountain near Caravalleda, and the vertical line passing through its summit, scarcely 1000 toises.) The mean slope of the peak of Teneriffe is scarcely 12 degrees 30 minutes. A precipice of six or seven thousand feet, like that of the Silla of Caracas, is a phenomenon far more rare than is generally believed by those who cross mountains without measuring their height, their bulk, and their slope. Since the experiments on the fall of bodies, and on their deviation to the south-east, have been resumed in several parts of Europe, a rock of two hundred and fifty toises of perpendicular elevation has been in vain sought for among all the Alps of Switzerland. The declivity of Mont Blanc towards the Allee Blanche does not even reach an angle of 45 degrees; though in the greater number of geological works, Mont Blanc is described as perpendicular on the south side.
At the Silla of Caracas, the enormous northern cliff is partly covered with vegetation, notwithstanding the extreme steepness of its slope. Tufts of befaria and andromedas appear as if suspended from the rock. The little valley which separates the domes towards the south, stretches in the direction of the sea. Alpine plants fill this hollow; and, not confined to the ridge of the mountain, they follow the sinuosities of the ravine. It would seem as if torrents were concealed under that fresh foliage; and the disposition of the plants, the grouping of so many inanimate objects, give the landscape all the charm of motion and of life.
Seven months had now elapsed since we had been on the summit of the peak of Teneriffe, whence we surveyed a space of the globe equal to a fourth part of France. The apparent horizon of the sea is there six leagues farther distant than at the top of the Silla, and yet we saw that horizon, at least for some time, very distinctly. It was strongly marked, and not confounded with the adjacent strata of air. At the Silla, which is five hundred and fifty toises lower than the peak of Teneriffe, the horizon, though nearer, continued invisible towards the north and north-north-east. Following with the eye the surface of the sea, which was smooth as glass, we were struck with the progressive diminution of the reflected light. Where the visual ray touched the last limit of that surface, the water was lost among the superposed strata of air. This appearance has something in it very extraordinary. We expect to see the horizon level with the eye; but, instead of distinguishing at this height a marked limit between the two elements, the more distant strata of water seem to be transformed into vapour, and mingled with the aerial ocean. I observed the same appearance, not in one spot of the horizon alone, but on an extent of more than a hundred and sixty degrees, along the Pacific, when I found myself for the first time on the pointed rock that commands the crater of Pichincha; a volcano, the elevation of which exceeds that of Mont Blanc.* (* See Views of Nature, Bohn's edition, page 358.) The visibility of a very distant horizon depends, when there is no mirage, upon two distinct things: the quantity of light received on that part of the sea where the visual ray terminates; and the extinction of the reflected light during its passage through the intermediate strata of air. It may happen, notwithstanding the serenity of the sky and the transparency of the atmosphere, that the ocean is feebly illuminated at thirty or forty leagues' distance; or that the strata of air nearest the earth may extinguish a great deal of the light, by absorbing the rays that traverse them.
The rounded peak, or western dome of the Silla, concealed from us the view of the town of Caracas; but we distinguished the nearest houses, the villages of Chacao and Petare, the coffee plantations, and the course of the Rio Guayra, a slender streak of water reflecting a silvery light. The narrow band of cultivated ground was pleasingly contrasted with the wild and gloomy aspect of the neighbouring mountains. Whilst contemplating these grand scenes, we feel little regret that the solitudes of the New World are not embellished with the monuments of antiquity.
But we could not long avail ourselves of the advantage arising from the position of the Silla, in commanding all the neighbouring summits. While we were examining with our glasses that part of the sea, the horizon of which was clearly defined, and the chain of the mountains of Ocumare, behind which begins the unknown world of the Orinoco and the Amazon, a thick fog from the plains rose to the elevated regions, first filling the bottom of the valley of Caracas. The vapours, illumined from above, presented a uniform tint of a milky white. The valley seemed overspread with water, and looked like an arm of the sea, of which the adjacent mountains formed the steep shore. In vain we waited for the slave who carried Ramsden's great sextant. Eager to avail myself of the favourable state of the sky, I resolved to take a few solar altitudes with a sextant by Troughton of two inches radius. The disk of the sun was half-concealed by the mist. The difference of longitude between the quarter of the Trinidad and the eastern peak of the Silla appears scarcely to exceed 0 degrees 3 minutes 22 seconds.* (* The difference of longitude between the Silla and La Guayra, according to Fidalgo, is 0 degrees 6 minutes 40 seconds.)
Whilst, seated on the rock, I was determining the dip of the needle, I found my hands covered with a species of hairy bee, a little smaller than the honey-bee of the north of Europe. These insects make their nests in the ground. They seldom fly; and, from the slowness of their movements, I should have supposed they were benumbed by the cold of the mountains. The people, in these regions, call them angelitos (little angels), because they very seldom sting. They are no doubt of the genus Apis, of the division melipones. It has been erroneously affirmed that these bees, which are peculiar to the New World, are destitute of all offensive weapons. Their sting is indeed comparatively feeble, and they use it seldom; but a person, not fully convinced of the harmlessness of these angelitos, can scarcely divest himself of a sensation of fear. I must confess, that, whilst engaged in my astronomical observations, I was often on the point of letting my instruments fall, when I felt my hands and face covered with these hairy bees. Our guides assured us that they attempt to defend themselves only when irritated by being seized by their legs. I was not tempted to try the experiment on myself.
The dip of the needle at the Silla was one centesimal degree less than in the town of Caracas. In collecting the observations which I made during calm weather and in very favourable circumstances, on the mountains as well as along the coast, it would at first seem, that we discover, in that part of the globe, a certain influence of the heights on the dip of the needle, and the intensity of the magnetical forces; but we must remark, that the dip at Caracas is much greater than could be supposed, from the situation of the town, and that the magnetical phenomena are modified by the proximity of certain rocks, which constitute so many particular centres or little systems of attraction.* (* I have seen fragments of quartz traversed by parallel bands of magnetic iron, carried into the valley of Caracas by the waters descending from the Galipano and the Cerro de Avila. This banded magnetic iron-ore is found also in the Sierra Nevada of Merida. Between the two peaks of the Silla, angular fragments of cellular quartz are found, covered with red oxide of iron. They do not act on the needle. This oxide is of a cinnabar-red colour.)
The temperature of the atmosphere varied on the summit of the Silla from eleven to fourteen degrees, according as the weather was calm or windy. Every one knows how difficult it is to verify, on the summit of a mountain, the temperature, which is to serve for the barometric calculation. The wind was east, which would seem to prove that the trade-winds extend in this latitude much higher than fifteen hundred toises. Von Buch had observed that, at the peak of Teneriffe, near the northern limit of the trade-winds, there exists generally at the elevation of one thousand nine hundred toises, a contrary current from the west. The Academy of Sciences recommended the men of science who accompanied the unfortunate La Perouse, to employ small air-balloons for the purpose of ascertaining at sea the extent of the trade-winds within the tropics. Such experiments are very difficult. Small balloons do not in general reach the height of the Silla; and the light clouds which are sometimes perceived at an elevation of three or four thousand toises, for instance, the fleecy clouds, called by the French moutons, remain almost fixed, or have such a slow motion, that it is impossible to judge of the direction of the wind.
During the short space of time that the sky was serene at the zenith, I found the blue of the atmosphere sensibly deeper than on the coasts. It is probable that, in the months of July and August, the difference between the colour of the sky on the coasts and on the summit of the Silla is still more considerable, but the meteorological phenomenon with which M. Bonpland and myself were most struck during the hour we passed on the mountain, was the apparent dryness of the air, which seemed to increase as the fog augmented.
This fog soon became so dense that it would have been imprudent to remain longer on the edge of a precipice of seven or eight thousand feet deep.* (* In the direction of north-west the slopes appear more accessible; and I have been told of a path frequented by smugglers, which leads to Caravalleda, between the two peaks of the Silla. From the eastern peak I took the bearings of the western peak, 64 degrees 40 minutes south-west; and of the houses, which I was told belonged to Caravalleda, 55 degrees 20 minutes north-west. ) We descended the eastern dome of the Silla, and gathered in our descent a gramen, which not only forms a new and very remarkable genus, but which, to our great astonishment, we found again some time after on the summit of the volcano of Pichincha, at the distance of four hundred leagues from the Silla, in the southern hemisphere.* (* Aegopogon cenchroides.) The Lichen floridus, so common in the north of Europe, covered the branches of the befaria and the Gualtheria odorata, descending even to the roots of these shrubs. Examining the mosses which cover the rocks of gneiss in the valley between the two peaks, I was surprised at finding real pebbles,—rounded fragments of quartz.* (* Fragments of brown copper-ore were found mixed with these pebbles, at an elevation of 1170 toises.) It may be conceived that the valley of Caracas was once an inland lake, before the Rio Guayra found an issue to the east near Caurimare, at the foot of the hill of Auyamas, and before the ravine of Tipe opened on the west, in the direction of Gatia and Cabo Blanco. But how can we imagine that these waters could ascend as high as the Silla, when the mountains opposite this peak, those of Ocumare, were too low to prevent their overflow into the llanos? The pebbles could not have been brought by torrents from more elevated points, since there is no height that commands the Silla. Must we admit that they have been heaved up, like all the mountains which border the coast.
It was half after four in the afternoon when we finished our observations. Satisfied with the success of our journey, we forgot that there might be danger in descending in the dark, steep declivities covered by a smooth and slippery turf. The mist concealed the valley from us; but we distinguished the double hill of La Puerta, which, like all objects lying almost perpendicularly beneath the eye, appeared extremely near. We relinquished our design of passing the night between the two summits of the Silla, and having again found the path we had cut through the thick wood of heliconia, we soon arrived at the Pejual, the region of odoriferous and resinous plants. The beauty of the befarias, and their branches covered with large purple flowers, again rivetted our attention. When, in these climates, a botanist gathers plants to form his herbal, he becomes difficult in his choice in proportion to the luxuriance of vegetation. He casts away those which have been first cut, because they appear less beautiful than those which were out of reach. Though loaded with plants before quitting the Pejual, we still regretted not having made a more ample harvest. We tarried so long in this spot, that night surprised us as we entered the savannah, at the elevation of upwards of nine hundred toises.
As there is scarcely any twilight in the tropics, we pass suddenly from bright daylight to darkness. The moon was on the horizon; but her disk was veiled from time to time by thick clouds, drifted by a cold and rough wind. Rapid slopes, covered with yellow and dry grass, now seen in shade, and now suddenly illumined, seemed like precipices, the depth of which the eye sought in vain to measure. We proceeded onwards, in single file, and endeavoured to support ourselves by our hands, lest we should roll down. The guides, who carried our instruments, abandoned us successively, to sleep on the mountain. Among those who remained with us was a Congo black, who evinced great address, bearing on his head a large dipping-needle: he held it constantly steady, notwithstanding the extreme declivity of the rocks. The fog had dispersed by degrees in the bottom of the valley; and the scattered lights we perceived below us caused a double illusion. The steeps appeared still more dangerous than they really were; and, during six hours of continual descent, we seemed to be always equally near the farms at the foot of the Silla. We heard very distinctly the voices of men and the notes of guitars. Sound is generally so well propagated upwards, that in a balloon at the elevation of three thousand toises, the barking of dogs is sometimes heard.* (* Gay-Lussac's account of his ascent on the 15th of September, 1805.)
We did not arrive till ten at night at the bottom of the valley. We were overcome with fatigue and thirst, having walked for fifteen hours, nearly without stopping. The soles of our feet were cut and torn by the asperities of a rocky soil and the hard and dry stalks of the gramina, for we had been obliged to pull off our boots, the soles having become too slippery. On declivities devoid of shrubs or ligneous herbs, which may be grasped by the hand, the danger of the descent is diminished by walking barefoot. In order to shorten the way, our guides conducted us from the Puerta de la Silla to the farm of Gallegos by a path leading to a reservoir of water, called el Tanque. They missed their way, however; and this last descent, the steepest of all, brought us near the ravine of Chacaito. The noise of the cascades gave this nocturnal scene a grand and wild character.
We passed the night at the foot of the Silla. Our friends at Caracas had been able to distinguish us with glasses on the summit of the eastern peak. They felt interested in hearing the account of our expedition, but they were not satisfied with the result of our measurement, which did not assign to the Silla even the elevation of the highest summit of the Pyrenees.* (* It was formerly believed that the height of the Silla of Caracas scarcely differed from that of the peak of Teneriffe.) One cannot blame the national feeling which suggests exaggerated ideas of the monuments of nature, in a country in which the monuments of art are nothing; nor can we wonder that the inhabitants of Quito and Riobamba, who have prided themselves for ages on the height of Chimborazo, mistrust those measurements which elevate the mountains of Himalaya above all the colossal Cordilleras?
During our journey to the Silla, and in all our excursions in the valley of Caracas, we were very attentive to the lodes and indications of ore which we found in the strata of gneiss. No regular diggings having been made, we could only examine the fissures, the ravines, and the land-slips occasioned by torrents in the rainy season. The rock of gneiss, passing sometimes into a granite of new formation, sometimes into mica-slate,* (* Especially at great elevations.) belongs in Germany to the most metalliferous rocks; but in the New Continent, the gneiss has not hitherto been remarked as very rich in ores worth working. The most celebrated mines of Mexico and Peru are found in the primitive and transition schists, in the trap-porphyries, the grauwakke, and the alpine limestones. In several spots of the valley of Caracas, the gneiss contains a small quantity of gold, disseminated in small veins of quartz, sulphuretted silver, azure copper-ore, and galena; but it is doubtful whether these different metalliferous substances are not too poor to encourage any attempt at working them. Such attempts were, however, made at the conquest of the province, about the middle of the sixteenth century.
From the promontory of Paria to beyond cape Vela, the early navigators had seen gold ornaments and gold dust, in the possession of the inhabitants of the coast. They penetrated into the interior of the country, to discover whence the precious metal came; and though the information obtained in the province of Coro, and the markets of Curiana and Cauchieto,* (* The Spaniards found, in 1500, in the country of Curiana (now Coro), little birds, frogs, and other ornaments made of gold. Those who had cast these figures lived at Cauchieto, a place nearer the Rio de la Hacha. I have seen ornaments resembling those described by Peter Martyr of Anghiera (which indicate tolerable skill in goldsmiths' work), among the remains of the ancient inhabitants of Cundinamarca. The same art appears to have been practised in places along the coasts, and also farther to the south, among the mountains of New Grenada.) clearly proved that real mineral wealth was to be found only to the west and south-west of Coro (that is to say, in the mountains near those of New Grenada), the whole province of Caracas was nevertheless eagerly explored. A governor, newly arrived on that coast, could recommend himself to the Spanish court only by boasting of the mines of his province; and in order to take from cupidity what was most ignoble and repulsive, the thirst of gold was justified by the purpose to which it was pretended the riches acquired by fraud and violence might be employed. "Gold," says Christopher Columbus, in his last letter* (Lettera rarissima data nelle Indie nella isola di Jamaica a 7 Julio dei 1503.—"Le oro e metallo sopra gli altri excellentissimo; e dell' oro si fanno li tesori e chi lo tiene fa e opera quanto vuole nel mondo[?], e finel[?]mente aggionge a mandare le anime al Paradiso.") to King Ferdinand, "gold is a thing so much the more necessary to your majesty, because, in order to fulfil the ancient prophecy, Jerusalem is to be rebuilt by a prince of the Spanish monarchy. Gold is the most excellent of metals. What becomes of those precious stones, which are sought for at the extremities of the globe? They are sold, and are finally converted into gold. With gold we not only do whatever we please in this world, but we can even employ it to snatch souls from Purgatory, and to people Paradise." These words bear the stamp of the age in which Columbus lived; but we are surprised to see this pompous eulogium of riches written by a man whose whole life was marked by the most noble disinterestedness.
The conquest of the province of Venezuela having been begun at its western extremity, the neighbouring mountains of Coro, Tocuyo, and Barquisimeto, first attracted the attention of the Conquistadores. These mountains join the Cordilleras of New Grenada (those of Santa Fe, Pamplona, la Grita, and Merida) to the littoral chain of Caracas. It is a land the more interesting in a geognostical point of view, as no map has yet made known the mountainous ramifications which the paramos of Niquitao and Las Rosas send out towards the north-east. Between Tocuyo, Araure, and Barquisimeto, rises the group of the Altar Mountains, connected on the south-east with the paramo of Las Rosas. A branch of the Altar stretches north-east by San Felipe el Fuerte, joining the granitic mountains of the coast near Porto Cabello. The other branch takes an eastward direction towards Nirgua and Tinaco, and joins the chain of the interior, that of Yusma, Villa de Cura, and Sabana de Ocumare.
The region we have been here describing separates the waters which flow to the Orinoco from those which run into the immense lake of Maracaybo and the Caribbean Sea. It includes climates which may be termed temperate rather than hot; and it is looked upon in the country, notwithstanding the distance of more than a hundred leagues, as a prolongation of the metalliferous soil of Pamplona. It was in the group of the western mountains of Venezuela, that the Spaniards, in the year 1551, worked the gold mine of Buria,* (* Real de Minas de San Felipe de Buria.) which was the origin of the foundation of the town of Barquisimeto.* (* Nueva Segovia.) But these works, like many other mines successively opened, were soon abandoned. Here, as in all the mountains of Venezuela, the produce of the ore has been found to be very variable. The lodes are very often divided, or they altogether cease; and the metals appear only in kidney-ores, and present the most delusive appearances. It is, however, only in this group of mountains of San Felipe and Barquisimeto, that the working of mines has been continued till the present time. Those of Aroa, near San Felipe el Fuerte, situated in the centre of a very insalubrious country, are the only mines which are wrought in the whole capitania-general of Caracas. They yield a small quantity of copper.
Next to the works at Buria, near Barquisimeto, those of the valley of Caracas, and of the mountains near the capital, are the most ancient. Francisco Faxardo and his wife Isabella, of the nation of the Guaiquerias,* often visited the table-land where the capital of Venezuela is now situated. (* Faxardo and his wife were the founders of the town of the Collado, now called Caravalleda.) They had given this table-land the name of Valle de San Francisco; and having seen some bits of gold in the hands of the natives, Faxardo succeeded, in the year 1560, in discovering the mines of Los Teques,* to the south-west of Caracas, near the group of the mountains of Cocuiza, which separate the valleys of Caracas and Aragua. (* Thirteen years later, in 1573, Gabriel de Avila, one of the alcaldes of the new town of Caracas, renewed the working of these mines, which were from that time called the "Real de Minas de Nuestra Senora." Probably this same Avila, on account of a few farms which he possessed in the mountains adjacent to La Guayra and Caracas, has occasioned the Cumbre to receive the name of Montana de Avila. This name has subsequently been applied erroneously to the Silla, and to all the chain which extends towards cape Codera.) It is thought that in the first of these valleys, near Baruta, south of the village of Valle, the natives had made some excavations in veins of auriferous quartz; and that, when the Spaniards first settled there, and founded the town of Caracas, they filled the shafts, which had been dry, with water. It is now impossible to ascertain this fact; but it is certain that, long before the Conquest, grains of gold were a medium of exchange, I do not say generally, but among certain nations of the New Continent. They gave gold for the purchase of pearls; and it does not appear extraordinary, that, after having for a long time picked up grains of gold in the rivulets, people who had fixed habitations, and were devoted to agriculture, should have tried to trace the auriferous veins in the superior surface of the soil. The mines of Los Teques could not be peaceably wrought, till the defeat of the Cacique Guaycaypuro, a celebrated chief of the Teques, who long contested with the Spaniards the possession of the province of Venezuela.
We have yet to mention a third point to which the attention of the Conquistadores was called by indications of mines, so early as the end of the sixteenth century. In following the valley of Caracas eastward beyond Caurimare, on the road to Caucagua, we reach a mountainous and woody country, where a great quantity of charcoal is now made, and which anciently bore the name of the Province of Los Mariches. In these eastern mountains of Venezuela, the gneiss passes into the state of talc. It contains, as at Salzburg, lodes of auriferous quartz. The works anciently begun in those mines have often been abandoned and resumed.
The mines of Caracas were forgotten during more than a hundred years. But at a period comparatively recent, about the end of the last century, an Intendant of Venezuela, Don Jose Avalo, again fell into the illusions which had flattered the cupidity of the Conquistadores. He fancied that all the mountains near the capital contained great metallic riches. Some Mexican miners were engaged, and their operations were directed to the ravine of Tipe, and the ancient mines of Baruta to the south of Caracas, where the Indians gather even now some little gold-washings. But the zeal which had prompted the enterprise soon diminished, and after much useless expense, the working of the mines of Caracas was totally abandoned. A small quantity of auriferous pyrites, sulphuretted silver, and a little native gold, were found; but these were only feeble indications; and in a country where labour is extremely dear, there was no inducement to pursue works so little productive.
We visited the ravine of Tipe, situated in that part of the valley which opens in the direction of Cabo Blanco. Proceeding from Caracas, we traverse, in the direction of the great barracks of San Carlos, a barren and rocky soil. Only a very few plants of Argemone mexicana are to be found. The gneiss appears everywhere above ground. We might have fancied ourselves on the table-land of Freiberg. We crossed first the little rivulet of Agua Salud, a limpid stream, which has no mineral taste, and then the Rio Garaguata. The road is commanded on the right by the Cerro de Avila and the Cumbre; and on the left, by the mountains of Aguas Negras. This defile is very interesting in a geological point of view. At this spot the valley of Caracas communicates, by the valleys of Tacagua and of Tipe, with the coast near Catia. A ridge of rock, the summit of which is forty toises above the bottom of the valley of Caracas, and more than three hundred toises above the valley of Tacagua, divides the waters which flow into the Rio Guayra and towards Cabo Blanco. On this point of division, at the entrance of the branch, the view is highly pleasing. The climate changes as we descend westward. In the valley of Tacagua we found some new habitations, and also conucos of maize and plantains. A very extensive plantation of tuna, or cactus, stamps this barren country with a peculiar character. The cactuses reach the height of fifteen feet, and grow in the form of candelabra, like the euphorbia of Africa. They are cultivated for the purpose of selling their refreshing fruits in the market of Caracas. The variety which has no thorns is called, strangely enough, in the colonies, tuna de Espana (Spanish cactus). We measured, at the same place, magueys or agaves, the long stems of which, laden with flowers, were forty-four feet high. However common this plant is become in the south of Europe, the native of a northern climate is never weary of admiring the rapid development of a liliaceous plant, which contains at once a sweet juice and astringent and caustic liquids, employed to cauterize wounds.
We found several veins of quartz in the valley of Tipe visible above the soil. They contained pyrites, carbonated iron-ore, traces of sulphuretted silver (glasserz), and grey copper-ore (fahlerz). The works which had been undertaken, either for extracting the ore, or exploring the nature of its bed, appeared to be very superficial. The earth falling in had filled up those excavations, and we could not judge of the richness of the lode. Notwithstanding the expense incurred under the intendancy of Don Jose Avalo, the great question whether the province of Venezuela contains mines rich enough to be worked, is yet problematical. Though in countries where hands are wanting, the culture of the soil demands unquestionably the first care of the government, yet the example of New Spain sufficiently proves that mining is not always unfavourable to the progress of agriculture. The best-cultivated Mexican lands, those which remind the traveller of the most beautiful districts of France and the south of Germany, extend from Silao towards the Villa of Leon: they are in the neighbourhood of the mines of Guanaxuato, which alone furnish a sixth part of all the silver of the New World.
EARTHQUAKES AT CARACAS. CONNECTION OF THOSE PHENOMENA WITH THE VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS OF THE WEST INDIA ISLANDS.
On the evening of the 7th of February we took our departure from Caracas. Since the period of our visit to that place, tremendous earthquakes have changed the surface of the soil. The city, which I have described, has disappeared; and on the same spot, on the ground fissured in various directions, another city is now slowly rising. The heaps of ruins, which were the grave of a numerous population, are becoming anew the habitation of men. In retracing changes of so general an interest, I shall be led to notice events which took place long after my return to Europe. I shall pass over in silence the popular commotions which have taken place, and the modifications which society has undergone. Modern nations, careful of their own remembrances, snatch from oblivion the history of human revolutions, which is, in fact, the history of ardent passions and inveterate hatred. It is not the same with respect to the revolutions of the physical world. These are described with least accuracy when they happen to be contemporary with civil dissensions. Earthquakes and eruptions of volcanoes strike the imagination by the evils which are their necessary consequence. Tradition seizes on whatever is vague and marvellous; and amid great public calamities, as in private misfortunes, man seems to shun that light which leads us to discover the real causes of events, and to understand the circumstances by which they are attended.
I have recorded in this work all I have been able to collect, and on the accuracy of which I can rely, respecting the earthquake of the 26th of March, 1812. By that catastrophe the town of Caracas was destroyed, and more than twenty thousand persons perished throughout the extent of the province of Venezuela. The intercourse which I have kept up with persons of all classes has enabled me to compare the description given by many eye-witnesses, and to interrogate them on objects that may throw light on physical science in general. The traveller, as the historian of nature, should verify the dates of great catastrophes, examine their connection and their mutual relations, and should mark in the rapid course of ages, in the continual progress of successive changes, those fixed points with which other catastrophes may one day be compared. All epochs are proximate to each other in the immensity of time comprehended in the history of nature. Years which have passed away seem but a few instants; and the physical descriptions of a country, even when they offer subjects of no very powerful and general interest, have at least the advantage of never becoming old. Similar considerations, no doubt, led M. de la Condamine to describe in his Voyage a l'Equateur, the memorable eruptions of the volcano of Cotopaxi,* which took place long after his departure from Quito. (* Those of the 30th of November, 1744, and of the 3rd of September, 1750.) I feel the less hesitation in following the example of that celebrated traveller, as the events I am about to relate will help to elucidate the theory of volcanic reaction, or the influence of a system of volcanoes on a vast space of circumjacent territory.
At the time when M. Bonpland and myself visited the provinces of New Andalusia, New Barcelona, and Caracas, it was generally believed that the most eastern parts of those coasts were especially exposed to the destructive effects of earthquakes. The inhabitants of Cumana dreaded the valley of Caracas, on account of its damp and variable climate, and its gloomy and misty sky; whilst the inhabitants of the temperate valley regarded Cumana as a town whose inhabitants incessantly inhaled a burning atmosphere, and whose soil was periodically agitated by violent commotions. Unmindful of the overthrow of Riobamba and other very elevated towns, and not aware that the peninsula of Araya, composed of mica-slate, shares the commotions of the calcareous coast of Cumana, well-informed persons imagined they discerned security in the structure of the primitive rocks of Caracas, as well as in the elevated situation of this valley. Religious ceremonies celebrated at La Guayra, and even in the capital, in the middle of the night,* doubtless called to mind the fact that the province of Venezuela had been subject at intervals to earthquakes; but dangers of rare occurrence are slightly feared. (* For instance, the nocturnal procession of the 21st of October, instituted in commemoration of the great earthquake which took place on that day of the month, at one o'clock in the morning, in 1778. Other very violent shocks were those of 1641, 1703, and 1802.) However, in the year 1811, fatal experience destroyed the illusion of theory and of popular opinion. Caracas, situated in the mountains, three degrees west of Cumana, and five degrees west of the volcanoes of the Caribbee islands, has suffered greater shocks than were ever experienced on the coast of Paria or New Andalusia.
At my arrival in Terra Firma, I was struck with the connection between the destruction of Cumana on the 14th of December, 1797, and the eruption of the volcanoes in the smaller West India Islands. This connection was again manifest in the destruction of Caracas on the 26th of March, 1812. The volcano of Guadaloupe seemed in 1797 to have exercised a reaction on the coasts of Cumana. Fifteen years later, it was a volcano situated nearer the continent (that of St. Vincent), which appeared to have extended its influence as far as Caracas and the banks of Apure. Possibly, at both those periods, the centre of the explosion was, at an immense depth, equally distant from the regions towards which the motion was propagated at the surface of the globe.
From the beginning of 1811 to 1813, a vast superficies of the earth,* (* Between latitudes 5 and 36 degrees north, and 31 and 91 degrees west longitude from Paris.) bound by the meridian of the Azores, the valley of the Ohio, the Cordilleras of New Grenada, the coasts of Venezuela, and the volcanoes of the smaller West India Islands, was shaken throughout its whole extent, by commotions which may be attributed to subterranean fires. The following series of phenomena seems to indicate communications at enormous distances. On the 30th of January, 1811, a submarine volcano broke out near the island of St. Michael, one of the Azores. At a place where the sea was sixty fathoms deep, a rock made its appearance above the surface of the waters. The heaving-up of the softened crust of the globe appears to have preceded the eruption of flame at the crater, as had already been observed at the volcanoes of Jorullo in Mexico, and on the appearance of the little island of Kameni, near Santorino. The new islet of the Azores was at first a mere shoal; but on the 15th of June, an eruption, which lasted six days, enlarged its extent, and carried it progressively to the height of fifty toises above the surface of the sea. This new land, of which captain Tillard took possession in the name of the British government, giving it the name of Sabrina Island, was nine hundred toises in diameter. It has again, it seems, been swallowed up by the ocean. This is the third time that submarine volcanoes have presented this extraordinary spectacle near the island of St. Michael; and, as if the eruptions of these volcanoes were subject to periodical recurrence, owing to a certain accumulation of elastic fluids, the island raised up has appeared at intervals of ninety-one or ninety-two years.* (* Malte-Brun, Geographie Universelle. There is, however, some doubt respecting the eruption of 1628, to which some accounts assign the date of 1638. The rising always happened near the island of St. Michael, though not identically on the same spot. It is remarkable that the small island of 1720 reached the same elevation as the island of Sabrina in 1811.)
At the time of the appearance of the new island of Sabrina, the smaller West India Islands, situated eight hundred leagues south-west of the Azores, experienced frequent earthquakes. More than two hundred shocks were felt from the month of May 1811, to April 1812, at St. Vincent; one of the three islands in which there are still active volcanoes. The commotion was not circumscribed to the insular portion of eastern America; and from the 16th of December, 1811, till the year 1813, the earth was almost incessantly agitated in the valleys of the Mississippi, the Arkansas river, and the Ohio. The oscillations were more feeble on the east of the Alleghanies, than to the west of these mountains, in Tennessee and Kentucky. They were accompanied by a great subterranean noise, proceeding from the south-west. In some places between New Madrid and Little Prairie, as at the Saline, north of Cincinnati, in latitude 37 degrees 45 minutes, shocks were felt every day, nay almost every hour, during several months. The whole of these phenomena continued from the 16th of December 1811, till the year 1813. The commotion, confined at first to the south, in the valley of the lower Mississippi, appeared to advance slowly northward.
Precisely at the period when this long series of earthquakes commenced in the Transalleghanian States (in the month of December 1811), the town of Caracas felt the first shock in calm and serene weather. This coincidence of phenomena was probably not accidental; for it must be borne in mind that, notwithstanding the distance which separates these countries, the low grounds of Louisiana and the coasts of Venezuela and Cumana belong to the same basin, that of the Gulf of Mexico. When we consider geologically the basin of the Caribbean Sea, and of the Gulf of Mexico, we find it bounded on the south by the coast-chain of Venezuela and the Cordilleras of Merida and Pamplona; on the east by the mountains of the West India Islands, and the Alleghanies; on the west by the Andes of Mexico, and the Rocky Mountains; and on the north by the very inconsiderable elevations which separate the Canadian lakes from the rivers which flow into the Mississippi. More than two-thirds of this basin are covered with water. It is bordered by two ranges of active volcanoes; on the east, in the Carribee Islands, between latitudes 13 and 16 degrees; and on the west in the Cordilleras of Nicaragua, Guatimala, and Mexico, between latitudes 11 and 20 degrees. When we reflect that the great earthquake at Lisbon, of the 1st of November, 1755, was felt almost simultaneously on the coasts of Sweden, at lake Ontario, and at the island of Martinique, it may not seem unreasonable to suppose, that all this basin of the West Indies, from Cumana and Caracas as far as the plains of Louisiana, should be simultaneously agitated by commotions proceeding from the same centre of action.
It is an opinion very generally prevalent on the coasts of Terra Firma, that earthquakes become more frequent when electric explosions have been during some years rare. It is supposed to have been observed, at Cumana and at Caracas, that the rains were less frequently attended with thunder from the year 1792; and the total destruction of Cumana in 1797, as well as the commotions felt in 1800, 1801, and 1802, at Maracaibo, Porto Cabello, and Caracas, have not failed to be attributed to an accumulation of electricity in the interior of the earth. Persons who have lived long in New Andalusia, or in the low regions of Peru, will admit that the period most to be dreaded for the frequency of earthquakes is the beginning of the rainy season, which, however, is also the season of thunder-storms. The atmosphere and the state of the surface of the globe seem to exercise an influence unknown to us on the changes which take place at great depths; and I am inclined to think that the connection which it is supposed has been traced between the absence of thunder-storms and the frequency of earthquakes, is rather a physical hypothesis framed by the half-learned of the country than the result of long experience. The coincidence of certain phenomena may be favoured by chance. The extraordinary commotions felt almost continually during the space of two years on the banks of the Mississippi and the Ohio, and which corresponded in 1812 with those of the valley of Caracas, were preceded at Louisiana by a year almost exempt from thunder-storms. The public mind was again struck with this phenomenon. We cannot be surprised that there should be in the native land of Franklin a great readiness to receive explanations founded on the theory of electricity.
The shock felt at Caracas in the month of December 1811, was the only one which preceded the terrible catastrophe of the 26th of March, 1812. The inhabitants of Terra Firma were alike ignorant of the agitations of the volcano in the island of St. Vincent, and of those felt in the basin of the Mississippi, where, on the 7th and 8th of February, 1812, the earth was day and night in perpetual oscillation. A great drought prevailed at this period in the province of Venezuela. Not a single drop of rain had fallen at Caracas or in the country to the distance of ninety leagues round, during five months preceding the destruction of the capital. The 26th of March was a remarkably hot day. The air was calm, and the sky unclouded. It was Ascension-day, and a great portion 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 forcible to make the bells of the churches toll; and it lasted five or six seconds. During that interval the ground 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 subterranean noise was heard, resembling the rolling of thunder, but louder and of longer continuance than that heard within the tropics in the 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, proceeding from north to south, and from east to west. Nothing could resist the perpendicular movement and the transverse undulations. The town of Caracas was entirely overthrown, and between nine and ten thousand of the inhabitants were buried under the ruins of the houses and churches. The procession of Ascension-day had not yet begun to pass through the streets, but the crowd was so great within the churches that nearly three or four thousand persons were crushed by the fall of the roofs. The explosion was most violent towards the north, in that part of the town situated 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, were reduced to 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, situated north of the church of la Trinidad, on the road from the custom-house of La Pastora, almost entirely disappeared. A regiment of troops of the line, under arms, and in readiness to join the procession, was, with the exception of a few men, buried beneath the ruins of the barracks. Nine-tenths of the fine city of Caracas were entirely destroyed. The walls of some houses not thrown down, as those in the street San Juan, near the Capuchin Hospital, were cracked in such a manner as to render them uninhabitable. The effects of the earthquake were somewhat less violent in the western and southern parts of the city, between the principal square and the ravine of Caraguata. There, the cathedral, supported by enormous buttresses, remains standing.
It is computed that nine or ten thousand persons were killed in the city of Caracas, exclusive of those who, being dangerously wounded, perished several months after, for want of food and proper care. The night of the Festival of the Ascension witnessed an awful scene of desolation and distress. The thick cloud of dust which, rising above the ruins, darkened the sky like a fog, had settled on the ground. No commotion was felt, and never was a night more calm or more serene. The moon, then nearly at the full, illumined the rounded domes of the Silla, and the aspect of the sky formed a perfect contrast to that of the earth, which was covered with the bodies of the dead, and heaped with ruins. Mothers were seen bearing in their arms their children, whom they hoped to recall to life. Desolate families were wandering through the city, seeking a brother, a husband, or 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 be traced only by long lines of ruins.
All the calamities experienced in the great catastrophes of Lisbon, Messina, Lima, and Riobamba were renewed at Caracas on the fatal 26th of March, 1812. Wounded persons, buried beneath the ruins, were heard imploring by their cries the help of the passers-by, and nearly two thousand were dug out. Never was pity more tenderly evinced; never was it 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 invalids who had escaped from the hospitals, were laid on the banks of the small river Guayra, where there was no shelter but the foliage of trees. Beds, linen to dress the wounds, instruments of surgery, medicines, every object of the most urgent necessity, was buried in the ruins. Everything, even food, was wanting; and for the space of several days water became scarce in the interior of the city. The commotion had rent the pipes of the fountains; and the falling in of the earth had choked up the springs that supplied them. To procure water it was necessary to go down to the river Guayra, which was considerably swelled; and even when the water was obtained vessels for conveying it were wanting.
There was a duty to be fulfilled to the dead, enjoined at once by piety and the dread of infection. It being impossible to inter so many thousand bodies, half-buried under the ruins, commissioners were appointed to burn them: and for this purpose funeral piles were erected between the heaps of ruins. This ceremony lasted several days. Amidst so many public calamities, the people devoted themselves to those religious duties which they thought best fitted to appease the wrath of heaven. Some, assembling in processions, sang funeral hymns; others, in a state of distraction, made their confessions aloud in the streets. In Caracas was then 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 at enmity were drawn together by the tie of common calamity. But if this feeling seemed to calm the passions of some, and open the heart to pity, it had a contrary effect on others, rendering them more rigorous and inhuman. In great calamities vulgar minds evince less of goodness than of energy. Misfortune acts in the same manner as the pursuits of literature and the study of nature; the happy influence of which is felt only by a few, giving more ardour to sentiment, more elevation to the thoughts, and increased benevolence to the disposition.
Shocks as violent as those which in about the space of a minute* overthrew the city of Caracas, could not be confined to a small portion of the continent. (* The duration of the earthquake, that is to say the whole of the movements of undulation and rising (undulacion y trepidacion), which occasioned the horrible catastrophe of the 26th of March, 1812, was estimated by some at 50 seconds, by others at 1 minute 12 seconds.) Their fatal effects extended as far as the provinces of Venezuela, Varinas, and Maracaibo, along the coast; and especially to the inland mountains. La Guayra, Mayquetia, Antimano, Baruta, La Vega, San Felipe, and Merida, were almost entirely destroyed. The number of the dead exceeded four or five thousand at La Guayra, and at the town of San Felipe, near the copper-mines of Aroa. It would appear that on a line running east-north-east and west-south-west from La Guayra and Caracas to the lofty mountains of Niquitao and Merida, the violence of the earthquake was principally directed. It was felt in the kingdom of New Grenada from the branches of the high Sierra de Santa Martha* (* As far as Villa de Los Remedios, and even to Carthagena.) as far as Santa Fe de Bogota and Honda, on the banks of the Magdalena, one hundred and eighty leagues from Caracas. It was everywhere more violent in the Cordilleras of gneiss and mica-slate, or immediately at their base, than in the plains; and this difference was particularly striking in the savannahs of Varinas and Casanara.* (* This is easily explained according to the system of those geologists who are of opinion that all chains of mountains, volcanic and not volcanic, have been formed by being raised up, as if through crevices.) In the valleys of Aragua, between Caracas and the town of San Felipe, the commotions were very slight; and La Victoria, Maracay, and Valencia, scarcely suffered at all, notwithstanding their proximity to the capital. At Valecillo, a few leagues from Valencia, the yawning earth threw out such an immense quantity of water, that it formed a new torrent. The same phenomenon took place near Porto-Cabello.* (* It is asserted that, in the mountains of Aroa, the ground, immediately after the great shocks, was found covered with a very fine and white earth, which appeared to have been projected through crevices.) On the other hand, the lake of Maracaybo diminished sensibly. At Coro no commotion was felt, though the town is situated on the coast, between other towns which suffered from the earthquake. Fishermen, who had passed the day of the 26th of March in the island of Orchila, thirty leagues north-east of La Guayra, felt no shock. These differences in the direction and propagation of the shock, are probably owing to the peculiar position of the stony strata.
Having thus traced the effects of the earthquake to the west of Caracas, as far as the snowy mountains of Santa Martha, and the table-land of Santa Fe de Bogota, we will proceed to consider their action on the country eastward of the capital. The commotions were very violent beyond Caurimare, in the valley of Capaya, where they extended as far as the meridian of Cape Codera: but it is extremely remarkable that they were very feeble on the coasts of Nueva Barcelona, Cumana, and Paria; though these coasts are the continuation of the shore of La Guayra, and were formerly known to have been often agitated by subterranean commotions. Admitting that the destruction of the four towns of Caracas, La Guayra, San Felipe, and Merida, may be attributed to a volcanic focus situated under or near the island of St. Vincent, we may conceive that the motion might have been propagated from north-east to south-west in a line passing through the islands of Los Hermanos, near Blanquilla, without touching the coasts of Araya, Cumana, and Nueva Barcelona. This propagation of the shock might even have taken place without any commotion having been felt at the intermediate points on the surface of the globe (the Hermanos Islands for instance). This phenomenon is frequently remarked at Peru and Mexico, in earthquakes which have followed during ages a fixed direction. The inhabitants of the Andes say, speaking of an intermediary tract of ground, not affected by the general commotion, "that it forms a bridge" (que hace puente): as if they mean to indicate by this expression that the undulations are propagated at an immense depth under an inert rock.
At Caracas, fifteen or eighteen hours after the great catastrophe, the earth was tranquil. The night, as has already been observed, was fine and calm; and the commotions did not recommence till after the 27th. They were then attended by a very loud and long continued subterranean noise (bramido). The inhabitants of the destroyed city wandered into the country; but the villages and farms having suffered as much as the town, they could find no shelter till they were beyond the mountains of los Teques, in the valleys of Aragua, and in the llanos or savannahs. No less than fifteen oscillations were felt in one day. On the 5th of April there was almost as violent an earthquake as that which overthrew the capital. During several hours the ground was in a state of perpetual undulation. Large heaps of earth fell in the mountains; and enormous masses of rock were detached from the Silla of Caracas. It was even asserted, and this opinion prevails still in the country, that the two domes of the Silla sunk fifty or sixty toises; but this statement is not founded on any measurement. I am informed that, in like manner, in the province of Quito, the people, at every period of great commotions, imagine that the volcano of Tunguragua diminishes in height. It has been affirmed, in many published accounts of the destruction of Caracas, that the mountain of the Silla is an extinguished volcano; that a great quantity of volcanic substances are found on the road from La Guayra to Caracas; that the rocks do not present any regular stratification; and that everything bears the stamp of the action of fire. It has even been stated that twelve years prior to the great catastrophe, M. Bonpland and myself had, from our own observations, considered the Silla as a very dangerous neighbour to the city of Caracas, because the mountain contained a great quantity of sulphur, and the commotions must come from the north-east. It is seldom that observers of nature have to justify themselves for an accomplished prediction; but I think it my duty to oppose ideas which are too easily adopted on the LOCAL CAUSES of earthquakes.
In all places where the soil has been incessantly agitated for whole months, as at Jamaica in 1693, Lisbon in 1755, Cumana in 1766, and Piedmont in 1808, a volcano is expected to open. People forget that we must seek the focus or centre of action, far from the surface of the earth; that, according to undeniable evidence, the undulations are propagated almost at the same instant across seas of immense depth, at the distance of a thousand leagues; and that the greatest commotions take place not at the foot of active volcanoes, but in chains of mountains composed of the most heterogeneous rocks. In our geognostical observation of the country round Caracas we found gneiss, and mica-slate containing beds of primitive limestone. The strata are scarcely more fractured or irregularly inclined than near Freyburg in Saxony, or wherever mountains of primitive formation rise abruptly to great heights. I found at Caracas neither basalt nor dorolite, nor even trachytes or trap-porphyries; nor in general any trace of an extinguished volcano, unless we choose to regard the diabases of primitive grunstein, contained in gneiss, as masses of lava, which have filled up fissures. These diabases are the same as those of Bohemia, Saxony, and Franconia;* (* These grunsteins are found in Bohemia, near Pilsen, in granite; in Saxony, in the mica-slates of Scheenberg; in Franconia, between Steeben and Lauenstein, in transition-slates.) and whatever opinion may be entertained respecting the ancient causes of the oxidation of the globe at its surface, all those primitive mountains, which contain a mixture of hornblende and feldspar, either in veins or in balls with concentric layers, will not, I presume, be called volcanic formations. Mont Blanc and Mont d'Or will not be ranged in one and the same class. Even the partisans of the Huttonian or volcanic theory make a distinction between the lavas melted under the mere pressure of the atmosphere at the surface of the globe, and those layers formed by fire beneath the immense weight of the ocean and superincumbent rocks. They would not confound Auvergne and the granitic valley of Caracas in the same denomination; that of a country of extinct volcanoes.