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
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
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
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
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.