The Earthquake, by Baron Von Humboldt

This mysterious and awful visitant, which convulses the earth apparently without warning, is, however, like all the manifestations of nature, preceded by signs which the observing and understanding eye can perceive and calculate upon as unerringly as the astronomer can determine the approach of a comet.

The inhabitable earth is merely a shell or crust over the great mass of uninhabitable matter. The world beneath the earth's surface is as diversified as the world above. It has its mountains, its streams, its plains, its caverns, and its internal volcanoes.

As fearful storms, accompanied by lightning and rumbling thunder, sweep over the earth's surface, so beneath the crust occur electric storms, accompanied with terrific combustions of gases, which in their efforts to escape convulse the outer earth, and in many cases rend the shell asunder.

The earthquake which has recently (August 13, 14, 15, and 16, 1868) shaken the Pacific coast was occasioned by the discharge of the pent-up gases beneath, and also in part by the heated condition of the outer surface.

The "tidal phenomenon," as it is called, is the effect of the electrical condition of the earth beneath. The chemical components of the sea form a sensitive magnetic body, which is subject to attraction and repulsion, and as the magnetic current extended for several thousands of miles, and was caused by a collision of negative and positive forces, the sea was attracted and repulsed along the whole line of the internal commotion by the action of these forces.

The northern portion of this globe has in times past suffered from convulsions similar to those which now visit the tropical climates.

The fearful privations and heart-rending calamities which visited the earlier inhabitants of the earth are only known to the student of the cosmos of nature after he has attained the second birth.

The forces within and around the earth are now in comparative subjugation, but in the earlier periods of its existence, while still it was in the process of changing from a state adapted to a lower condition of animal life to one fitted to a higher state of animal and intellectual existence, the elements were in a frequent state of rupture and disorder.

No mortal pen can depict the scene which I recently witnessed on the occurrence of the earthquake on the Pacific coast. Forty thousand souls arising amid smoke and blackened clouds of flying stones and upheaving earth, with outstretched arms, and faces strained with horror, emerging suddenly from their old bodies into their spirit-forms looking awestruck into each other's faces; a vast swarm clinging together almost as helplessly as young bees to their hive suddenly cut off from their occupations and their pleasures, their homes, and their familiar affairs of earth!

But what they experienced, proud and noble cities of the past have experienced likewise. Grace and ornament, art and grandeur, beauty, love, and manly strength have been swept away time and again by the bursting of the treacherous doors that lead into the heart of the earth!

Change marks the footsteps of the Creator. The solid mountain, the firm, unyielding earth, which to the unthinking mind seem durable and eternal in their strength, like mankind carry within themselves the seeds of their own dissolution.

Yet the day will come when man, by the aid of science, will, through these premonitory symptoms, foresee the coming events, even as the wise physician can discern the time when his patient's soul will leave its body.

Nature misunderstood is a fearful mystery; but understood, she is a simple and beautiful piece of mechanism; and the earthquake may not be more disastrous than the flood or the avalanche when science and experience have taught men to avoid the localities of danger, and to watch the hour of its approach, that they may flee before it.

Nature is never abrupt in her actions. She heralds her intentions long before she enacts them, but as it requires the quick ear of the savage the child of nature to detect the far-off prey, so it requires the student of nature to discover the distant tread of the earthquake.