INTERIOR OF THE EARTH
THE "Voyages Extraordinaires" of M. Jules Verne deserve to be made
widely known in English-speaking countries by means of carefully
prepared translations. Witty and ingenious adaptations of the
researches and discoveries of modern science to the popular taste,
which demands that these should be presented to ordinary readers in
the lighter form of cleverly mingled truth and fiction, these books
will assuredly be read with profit and delight, especially by English
youth. Certainly no writer before M. Jules Verne has been so happy in
weaving together in judicious combination severe scientific truth
with a charming exercise of playful imagination.
Iceland, the starting point of the marvellous underground journey
imagined in this volume, is invested at the present time with. a
painful interest in consequence of the disastrous eruptions last
Easter Day, which covered with lava and ashes the poor and scanty
vegetation upon which four thousand persons were partly dependent for
the means of subsistence. For a long time to come the natives of that
interesting island, who cleave to their desert home with all that
_amor patriae_ which is so much more easily understood than
explained, will look, and look not in vain, for the help of those on
whom fall the smiles of a kindlier sun in regions not torn by
earthquakes nor blasted and ravaged by volcanic fires. Will the
readers of this little book, who, are gifted with the means of
indulging in the luxury of extended beneficence, remember the
distress of their brethren in the far north, whom distance has not
barred from the claim of being counted our "neighbours"? And whatever
their humane feelings may prompt them to bestow will be gladly added
to the Mansion-House Iceland Relief Fund.
In his desire to ascertain how far the picture of Iceland, drawn in
the work of Jules Verne is a correct one, the translator hopes in the
course of a mail or two to receive a communication from a leading man
of science in the island, which may furnish matter for additional
information in a future edition.
The scientific portion of the French original is not without a few
errors, which the translator, with the kind assistance of Mr. Cameron
of H. M. Geological Survey, has ventured to point out and correct. It
is scarcely to be expected in a work in which the element of
amusement is intended to enter more largely than that of scientific
instruction, that any great degree of accuracy should be arrived at.
Yet the translator hopes that what trifling deviations from the text
or corrections in foot notes he is responsible for, will have done a
little towards the increased usefulness of the work.
F. A. M.
I THE PROFESSOR AND HIS FAMILY
II A MYSTERY TO BE SOLVED AT ANY PRICE
III THE RUNIC WRITING EXERCISES THE PROFESSOR
IV THE ENEMY TO BE STARVED INTO SUBMISSION
V FAMINE, THEN VICTORY, FOLLOWED BY DISMAY
VI EXCITING DISCUSSIONS ABOUT AN UNPARALLELED EXERCISE
VII A WOMAN'S COURAGE
VIII SERIOUS PREPARATIONS FOR VERTICAL DESCENT
IX ICELAND, BUT WHAT NEXT?
X INTERESTING CONVERSATIONS WITH ICELANDIC SAVANTS
XI A GUIDE FOUND TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
XII A BARREN LAND
XIII HOSPITALITY UNDER THE ARCTIC CIRCLE
XIV BUT ARCTICS CAN BE INHOSPITABLE, TOO
XV SNÆFFEL AT LAST
XVI BOLDLY DOWN THE CRATER
XVII VERTICAL DESCENT
XVIII THE WONDERS OF TERRESTIAL DEPTHS
XIX GEOLOGICAL STUDIES IN SITU
XX THE FIRST SIGNS OF DISTRESS
XXI COMPASSION FUSES THE PROFESSOR'S HEART
XXII TOTAL FAILURE OF WATER
XXIII WATER DISCOVERED
XXIV WELL SAID, OLD MOLE! CANST THOU WORK
IN THE GROUND SO FAST?
XXV DE PROFUNDIS
XXVI THE WORST PERIL OF ALL
XXVII LOST IN THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH
XXVIII THE RESCUE IN THE WHISPERING GALLERY
XXIX THALATTA! THALATTA!
XXX A NEW MARE INTERNUM
XXXI PREPARATIONS FOR A VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY
XXXII WONDERS OF THE DEEP
XXXIII A BATTLE OF MONSTERS
XXXIV THE GREAT GEYSER
XXXV AN ELECTRIC STORM
XXXVI CALM PHILOSOPHIC DISCUSSIONS
XXXVII THE LIEDENBROCK MUSEUM OF GEOLOGY
XXXVIII THE PROFESSOR IN HIS CHAIR AGAIN
XXXIX FOREST SCENERY ILLUMINATED BY ELECTRICITY
XL PREPARATIONS FOR BLASTING A PASSAGE
TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
XLI THE GREAT EXPLOSION AND THE RUSH DOWN BELOW
XLII HEADLONG SPEED UPWARD THROUGH THE HORRORS OF DARKNESS
XLIII SHOT OUT OF A VOLCANO AT LAST!
XLIV SUNNY LANDS IN THE BLUE MEDITERRANEAN
XLV ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
A JOURNEY INTO THE INTERIOR OF THE EARTH
THE PROFESSOR AND HIS FAMILY
On the 24th of May, 1863, my uncle, Professor Liedenbrock, rushed
into his little house, No. 19 Königstrasse, one of the oldest streets
in the oldest portion of the city of Hamburg.
Martha must have concluded that she was very much behindhand, for the
dinner had only just been put into the oven.
"Well, now," said I to myself, "if that most impatient of men is
hungry, what a disturbance he will make!"
"M. Liedenbrock so soon!" cried poor Martha in great alarm, half
opening the dining-room door.
"Yes, Martha; but very likely the dinner is not half cooked, for it
is not two yet. Saint Michael's clock has only just struck half-past
"Then why has the master come home so soon?"
"Perhaps he will tell us that himself."
"Here he is, Monsieur Axel; I will run and hide myself while you
argue with him."
And Martha retreated in safety into her own dominions.
I was left alone. But how was it possible for a man of my undecided
turn of mind to argue successfully with so irascible a person as the
Professor? With this persuasion I was hurrying away to my own little
retreat upstairs, when the street door creaked upon its hinges; heavy
feet made the whole flight of stairs to shake; and the master of the
house, passing rapidly through the dining-room, threw himself in
haste into his own sanctum.
But on his rapid way he had found time to fling his hazel stick into
a corner, his rough broadbrim upon the table, and these few emphatic
words at his nephew:
"Axel, follow me!"
I had scarcely had time to move when the Professor was again shouting
"What! not come yet?"
And I rushed into my redoubtable master's study.
Otto Liedenbrock had no mischief in him, I willingly allow that; but
unless he very considerably changes as he grows older, at the end he
will be a most original character.
He was professor at the Johannæum, and was delivering a series of
lectures on mineralogy, in the course of every one of which he broke
into a passion once or twice at least. Not at all that he was
over-anxious about the improvement of his class, or about the degree
of attention with which they listened to him, or the success which
might eventually crown his labours. Such little matters of detail
never troubled him much. His teaching was as the German philosophy
calls it, 'subjective'; it was to benefit himself, not others. He was
a learned egotist. He was a well of science, and the pulleys worked
uneasily when you wanted to draw anything out of it. In a word, he
was a learned miser.
Germany has not a few professors of this sort.
To his misfortune, my uncle was not gifted with a sufficiently rapid
utterance; not, to be sure, when he was talking at home, but
certainly in his public delivery; this is a want much to be deplored
in a speaker. The fact is, that during the course of his lectures at
the Johannæum, the Professor often came to a complete standstill; he
fought with wilful words that refused to pass his struggling lips,
such words as resist and distend the cheeks, and at last break out
into the unasked-for shape of a round and most unscientific oath:
then his fury would gradually abate.
Now in mineralogy there are many half-Greek and half-Latin terms,
very hard to articulate, and which would be most trying to a poet's
measures. I don't wish to say a word against so respectable a
science, far be that from me. True, in the august presence of
rhombohedral crystals, retinasphaltic resins, gehlenites, Fassaites,
molybdenites, tungstates of manganese, and titanite of zirconium,
why, the most facile of tongues may make a slip now and then.
It therefore happened that this venial fault of my uncle's came to be
pretty well understood in time, and an unfair advantage was taken of
it; the students laid wait for him in dangerous places, and when he
began to stumble, loud was the laughter, which is not in good taste,
not even in Germans. And if there was always a full audience to
honour the Liedenbrock courses, I should be sorry to conjecture how
many came to make merry at my uncle's expense.
Nevertheless my good uncle was a man of deep learning - a fact I am
most anxious to assert and reassert. Sometimes he might irretrievably
injure a specimen by his too great ardour in handling it; but still
he united the genius of a true geologist with the keen eye of the
mineralogist. Armed with his hammer, his steel pointer, his magnetic
needles, his blowpipe, and his bottle of nitric acid, he was a
powerful man of science. He would refer any mineral to its proper
place among the six hundred [l] elementary substances now enumerated,
by its fracture, its appearance, its hardness, its fusibility, its
sonorousness, its smell, and its taste.
The name of Liedenbrock was honourably mentioned in colleges and
learned societies. Humphry Davy,  Humboldt, Captain Sir John
Franklin, General Sabine, never failed to call upon him on their way
through Hamburg. Becquerel, Ebelman, Brewster, Dumas, Milne-Edwards,
Saint-Claire-Deville frequently consulted him upon the most difficult
problems in chemistry, a science which was indebted to him for
considerable discoveries, for in 1853 there had appeared at Leipzig
an imposing folio by Otto Liedenbrock, entitled, "A Treatise upon
Transcendental Chemistry," with plates; a work, however, which failed
to cover its expenses.
To all these titles to honour let me add that my uncle was the
curator of the museum of mineralogy formed by M. Struve, the Russian
ambassador; a most valuable collection, the fame of which is European.
Such was the gentleman who addressed me in that impetuous manner.
Fancy a tall, spare man, of an iron constitution, and with a fair
complexion which took off a good ten years from the fifty he must own
to. His restless eyes were in incessant motion behind his full-sized
spectacles. His long, thin nose was like a knife blade. Boys have
been heard to remark that that organ was magnetised and attracted
iron filings. But this was merely a mischievous report; it had no
attraction except for snuff, which it seemed to draw to itself in
When I have added, to complete my portrait, that my uncle walked by
mathematical strides of a yard and a half, and that in walking he
kept his fists firmly closed, a sure sign of an irritable
temperament, I think I shall have said enough to disenchant any one
who should by mistake have coveted much of his company.
He lived in his own little house in Königstrasse, a structure half
brick and half wood, with a gable cut into steps; it looked upon one
of those winding canals which intersect each other in the middle of
the ancient quarter of Hamburg, and which the great fire of 1842 had
 Sixty-three. (Tr.)
 As Sir Humphry Davy died in 1829, the translator must be pardoned
for pointing out here an anachronism, unless we are to assume that
the learned Professor's celebrity dawned in his earliest years. (Tr.)
It is true that the old house stood slightly off the perpendicular,
and bulged out a little towards the street; its roof sloped a little
to one side, like the cap over the left ear of a Tugendbund student;
its lines wanted accuracy; but after all, it stood firm, thanks to an
old elm which buttressed it in front, and which often in spring sent
its young sprays through the window panes.
My uncle was tolerably well off for a German professor. The house was
his own, and everything in it. The living contents were his
god-daughter Gräuben, a young Virlandaise of seventeen, Martha, and
myself. As his nephew and an orphan, I became his laboratory
I freely confess that I was exceedingly fond of geology and all its
kindred sciences; the blood of a mineralogist was in my veins, and in
the midst of my specimens I was always happy.
In a word, a man might live happily enough in the little old house in
the Königstrasse, in spite of the restless impatience of its master,
for although he was a little too excitable - he was very fond of me.
But the man had no notion how to wait; nature herself was too slow
for him. In April, after a had planted in the terra-cotta pots
outside his window seedling plants of mignonette and convolvulus, he
would go and give them a little pull by their leaves to make them
grow faster. In dealing with such a strange individual there was
nothing for it but prompt obedience. I therefore rushed after him.
A MYSTERY TO BE SOLVED AT ANY PRICE
That study of his was a museum, and nothing else. Specimens of
everything known in mineralogy lay there in their places in perfect
order, and correctly named, divided into inflammable, metallic, and
How well I knew all these bits of science! Many a time, instead of
enjoying the company of lads of my own age, I had preferred dusting
these graphites, anthracites, coals, lignites, and peats! And there
were bitumens, resins, organic salts, to be protected from the least
grain of dust; and metals, from iron to gold, metals whose current
value altogether disappeared in the presence of the republican
equality of scientific specimens; and stones too, enough to rebuild
entirely the house in Königstrasse, even with a handsome additional
room, which would have suited me admirably.
But on entering this study now I thought of none of all these
wonders; my uncle alone filled my thoughts. He had thrown himself
into a velvet easy-chair, and was grasping between his hands a book
over which he bent, pondering with intense admiration.
"Here's a remarkable book! What a wonderful book!" he was exclaiming.
These ejaculations brought to my mind the fact that my uncle was
liable to occasional fits of bibliomania; but no old book had any
value in his eyes unless it had the virtue of being nowhere else to
be found, or, at any rate, of being illegible.
"Well, now; don't you see it yet? Why I have got a priceless
treasure, that I found his morning, in rummaging in old Hevelius's
shop, the Jew."
"Magnificent!" I replied, with a good imitation of enthusiasm.
What was the good of all this fuss about an old quarto, bound in
rough calf, a yellow, faded volume, with a ragged seal depending from
But for all that there was no lull yet in the admiring exclamations
of the Professor.
"See," he went on, both asking the questions and supplying the
answers. "Isn't it a beauty? Yes; splendid! Did you ever see such a
binding? Doesn't the book open easily? Yes; it stops open anywhere.
But does it shut equally well? Yes; for the binding and the leaves
are flush, all in a straight line, and no gaps or openings anywhere.
And look at its back, after seven hundred years. Why, Bozerian,
Closs, or Purgold might have been proud of such a binding!"
While rapidly making these comments my uncle kept opening and
shutting the old tome. I really could do no less than ask a question
about its contents, although I did not feel the slightest interest.
"And what is the title of this marvellous work?" I asked with an
affected eagerness which he must have been very blind not to see
"This work," replied my uncle, firing up with renewed enthusiasm,
"this work is the Heims Kringla of Snorre Turlleson, the most famous
Icelandic author of the twelfth century! It is the chronicle of the
Norwegian princes who ruled in Iceland."
"Indeed;" I cried, keeping up wonderfully, "of course it is a German
"What!" sharply replied the Professor, "a translation! What should I
do with a translation? This _is_ the Icelandic original, in the
magnificent idiomatic vernacular, which is both rich and simple, and
admits of an infinite variety of grammatical combinations and verbal
"Like German." I happily ventured.
"Yes." replied my uncle, shrugging his shoulders; "but, in addition
to all this, the Icelandic has three numbers like the Greek, and
irregular declensions of nouns proper like the Latin."
"Ah!" said I, a little moved out of my indifference; "and is the type
"Type! What do you mean by talking of type, wretched Axel? Type! Do
you take it for a printed book, you ignorant fool? It is a
manuscript, a Runic manuscript."
"Yes. Do you want me to explain what that is?"
"Of course not," I replied in the tone of an injured man. But my
uncle persevered, and told me, against my will, of many things I
cared nothing about.
"Runic characters were in use in Iceland in former ages. They were
invented, it is said, by Odin himself. Look there, and wonder,
impious young man, and admire these letters, the invention of the
Well, well! not knowing what to say, I was going to prostrate myself
before this wonderful book, a way of answering equally pleasing to
gods and kings, and which has the advantage of never giving them any
embarrassment, when a little incident happened to divert conversation
into another channel.
This was the appearance of a dirty slip of parchment, which slipped
out of the volume and fell upon the floor.
My uncle pounced upon this shred with incredible avidity. An old
document, enclosed an immemorial time within the folds of this old
book, had for him an immeasurable value.
"What's this?" he cried.
And he laid out upon the table a piece of parchment, five inches by
three, and along which were traced certain mysterious characters.
Here is the exact facsimile. I think it important to let these
strange signs be publicly known, for they were the means of drawing
on Professor Liedenbrock and his nephew to undertake the most
wonderful expedition of the nineteenth century.
[Runic glyphs occur here]
The Professor mused a few moments over this series of characters;
then raising his spectacles he pronounced:
"These are Runic letters; they are exactly like those of the
manuscript of Snorre Turlleson. But, what on earth is their meaning?"
Runic letters appearing to my mind to be an invention of the learned
to mystify this poor world, I was not sorry to see my uncle suffering
the pangs of mystification. At least, so it seemed to me, judging
from his fingers, which were beginning to work with terrible energy.
"It is certainly old Icelandic," he muttered between his teeth.
And Professor Liedenbrock must have known, for he was acknowledged to
be quite a polyglot. Not that he could speak fluently in the two
thousand languages and twelve thousand dialects which are spoken on
the earth, but he knew at least his share of them.
So he was going, in the presence of this difficulty, to give way to
all the impetuosity of his character, and I was preparing for a
violent outbreak, when two o'clock struck by the little timepiece
over the fireplace.
At that moment our good housekeeper Martha opened the study door,
"Dinner is ready!"
I am afraid he sent that soup to where it would boil away to nothing,
and Martha took to her heels for safety. I followed her, and hardly
knowing how I got there I found myself seated in my usual place.
I waited a few minutes. No Professor came. Never within my
remembrance had he missed the important ceremonial of dinner. And yet
what a good dinner it was! There was parsley soup, an omelette of ham
garnished with spiced sorrel, a fillet of veal with compote of
prunes; for dessert, crystallised fruit; the whole washed down with
All this my uncle was going to sacrifice to a bit of old parchment.
As an affectionate and attentive nephew I considered it my duty to
eat for him as well as for myself, which I did conscientiously.
"I have never known such a thing," said Martha. "M. Liedenbrock is
not at table!"
"Who could have believed it?" I said, with my mouth full.
"Something serious is going to happen," said the servant, shaking her
My opinion was, that nothing more serious would happen than an awful
scene when my uncle should have discovered that his dinner was
devoured. I had come to the last of the fruit when a very loud voice
tore me away from the pleasures of my dessert. With one spring I
bounded out of the dining-room into the study.
THE RUNIC WRITING EXERCISES THE PROFESSOR
"Undoubtedly it is Runic," said the Professor, bending his brows;
"but there is a secret in it, and I mean to discover the key."
A violent gesture finished the sentence.
"Sit there," he added, holding out his fist towards the table. "Sit
there, and write."
I was seated in a trice.
"Now I will dictate to you every letter of our alphabet which
corresponds with each of these Icelandic characters. We will see what
that will give us. But, by St. Michael, if you should dare to deceive
The dictation commenced. I did my best. Every letter was given me one
after the other, with the following remarkable result:
mm.rnlls esrevel seecIde
sgtssmf vnteief niedrke
kt,samn atrateS saodrrn
emtnaeI nvaect rrilSa
Atsaar .nvcrc ieaabs
ccrmi eevtVl frAntv
dt,iac oseibo KediiI
[Redactor: In the original version the initial letter is an 'm' with
a superscore over it. It is my supposition that this is the
translator's way of writing 'mm' and I have replaced it accordingly,
since our typography does not allow such a character.]
When this work was ended my uncle tore the paper from me and examined
it attentively for a long time.
"What does it all mean?" he kept repeating mechanically.
Upon my honour I could not have enlightened him. Besides he did not
ask me, and he went on talking to himself.
"This is what is called a cryptogram, or cipher," he said, "in which
letters are purposely thrown in confusion, which if properly arranged
would reveal their sense. Only think that under this jargon there may
lie concealed the clue to some great discovery!"
As for me, I was of opinion that there was nothing at all, in it;
though, of course, I took care not to say so.
Then the Professor took the book and the parchment, and diligently
compared them together.
"These two writings are not by the same hand," he said; "the cipher
is of later date than the book, an undoubted proof of which I see in
a moment. The first letter is a double m, a letter which is not to be
found in Turlleson's book, and which was only added to the alphabet
in the fourteenth century. Therefore there are two hundred years
between the manuscript and the document."
I admitted that this was a strictly logical conclusion.
"I am therefore led to imagine," continued my uncle, "that some
possessor of this book wrote these mysterious letters. But who was
that possessor? Is his name nowhere to be found in the manuscript?"
My uncle raised his spectacles, took up a strong lens, and carefully
examined the blank pages of the book. On the front of the second, the
title-page, he noticed a sort of stain which looked like an ink blot.
But in looking at it very closely he thought he could distinguish
some half-effaced letters. My uncle at once fastened upon this as the
centre of interest, and he laboured at that blot, until by the help
of his microscope he ended by making out the following Runic
characters which he read without difficulty.
"Arne Saknussemm!" he cried in triumph. "Why that is the name of
another Icelander, a savant of the sixteenth century, a celebrated
I gazed at my uncle with satisfactory admiration.
"Those alchemists," he resumed, "Avicenna, Bacon, Lully, Paracelsus,
were the real and only savants of their time. They made discoveries
at which we are astonished. Has not this Saknussemm concealed under
his cryptogram some surprising invention? It is so; it must be so!"
The Professor's imagination took fire at this hypothesis.
"No doubt," I ventured to reply, "but what interest would he have in
thus hiding so marvellous a discovery?"
"Why? Why? How can I tell? Did not Galileo do the same by Saturn? We
shall see. I will get at the secret of this document, and I will
neither sleep nor eat until I have found it out."
My comment on this was a half-suppressed "Oh!"
"Nor you either, Axel," he added.
"The deuce!" said I to myself; "then it is lucky I have eaten two
"First of all we must find out the key to this cipher; that cannot be
At these words I quickly raised my head; but my uncle went on
"There's nothing easier. In this document there are a hundred and
thirty-two letters, viz., seventy-seven consonants and fifty-five
vowels. This is the proportion found in southern languages, whilst
northern tongues are much richer in consonants; therefore this is in
a southern language."
These were very fair conclusions, I thought.
"But what language is it?"
Here I looked for a display of learning, but I met instead with
"This Saknussemm," he went on, "was a very well-informed man; now
since he was not writing in his own mother tongue, he would naturally
select that which was currently adopted by the choice spirits of the
sixteenth century; I mean Latin. If I am mistaken, I can but try
Spanish, French, Italian, Greek, or Hebrew. But the savants of the
sixteenth century generally wrote in Latin. I am therefore entitled
to pronounce this, à priori, to be Latin. It is Latin."
I jumped up in my chair. My Latin memories rose in revolt against the
notion that these barbarous words could belong to the sweet language
"Yes, it is Latin," my uncle went on; "but it is Latin confused and
in disorder; "_pertubata seu inordinata,_" as Euclid has it."
"Very well," thought I, "if you can bring order out of that
confusion, my dear uncle, you are a clever man."
"Let us examine carefully," said he again, taking up the leaf upon
which I had written. "Here is a series of one hundred and thirty-two
letters in apparent disorder. There are words consisting of
consonants only, as _nrrlls;_ others, on the other hand, in which
vowels predominate, as for instance the fifth, _uneeief,_ or the last
but one, _oseibo_. Now this arrangement has evidently not been
premeditated; it has arisen mathematically in obedience to the
unknown law which has ruled in the succession of these letters. It
appears to me a certainty that the original sentence was written in a
proper manner, and afterwards distorted by a law which we have yet to
discover. Whoever possesses the key of this cipher will read it with
fluency. What is that key? Axel, have you got it?"
I answered not a word, and for a very good reason. My eyes had fallen
upon a charming picture, suspended against the wall, the portrait of
Gräuben. My uncle's ward was at that time at Altona, staying with a
relation, and in her absence I was very downhearted; for I may
confess it to you now, the pretty Virlandaise and the professor's
nephew loved each other with a patience and a calmness entirely
German. We had become engaged unknown to my uncle, who was too much
taken up with geology to be able to enter into such feelings as ours.
Gräuben was a lovely blue-eyed blonde, rather given to gravity and
seriousness; but that did not prevent her from loving me very
sincerely. As for me, I adored her, if there is such a word in the
German language. Thus it happened that the picture of my pretty
Virlandaise threw me in a moment out of the world of realities into
that of memory and fancy.
There looked down upon me the faithful companion of my labours and my
recreations. Every day she helped me to arrange my uncle's precious
specimens; she and I labelled them together. Mademoiselle Gräuben was
an accomplished mineralogist; she could have taught a few things to a
savant. She was fond of investigating abstruse scientific questions.
What pleasant hours we have spent in study; and how often I envied
the very stones which she handled with her charming fingers.
Then, when our leisure hours came, we used to go out together and
turn into the shady avenues by the Alster, and went happily side by
side up to the old windmill, which forms such an improvement to the
landscape at the head of the lake. On the road we chatted hand in
hand; I told her amusing tales at which she laughed heartilv. Then we
reached the banks of the Elbe, and after having bid good-bye to the
swan, sailing gracefully amidst the white water lilies, we returned
to the quay by the steamer.
That is just where I was in my dream, when my uncle with a vehement
thump on the table dragged me back to the realities of life.
"Come," said he, "the very first idea which would come into any one's
head to confuse the letters of a sentence would be to write the words
vertically instead of horizontally."
"Indeed!" said I.
"Now we must see what would be the effect of that, Axel; put down
upon this paper any sentence you like, only instead of arranging the
letters in the usual way, one after the other, place them in
succession in vertical columns, so as to group them together in five
or six vertical lines."
I caught his meaning, and immediately produced the following literary
I y l o a u
l o l w r b
o u , n G e
v w m d r n
e e y e a !
"Good," said the professor, without reading them, "now set down those
words in a horizontal line."
I obeyed, and with this result:
Iyloau lolwrb ou,nGe vwmdrn eeyea!
"Excellent!" said my uncle, taking the paper hastily out of my hands.
"This begins to look just like an ancient document: the vowels and
the consonants are grouped together in equal disorder; there are even
capitals in the middle of words, and commas too, just as in
I considered these remarks very clever.
"Now," said my uncle, looking straight at me, "to read the sentence
which you have just written, and with which I am wholly unacquainted,
I shall only have to take the first letter of each word, then the
second, the third, and so forth."
And my uncle, to his great astonishment, and my much greater, read:
"I love you well, my own dear Gräuben!"
"Hallo!" cried the Professor.
Yes, indeed, without knowing what I was about, like an awkward and
unlucky lover, I had compromised myself by writing this unfortunate
"Aha! you are in love with Gräuben?" he said, with the right look for
"Yes; no!" I stammered.
"You love Gräuben," he went on once or twice dreamily. "Well, let us
apply the process I have suggested to the document in question."
My uncle, falling back into his absorbing contemplations, had already
forgotten my imprudent words. I merely say imprudent, for the great
mind of so learned a man of course had no place for love affairs, and
happily the grand business of the document gained me the victory.
Just as the moment of the supreme experiment arrived the Professor's
eyes flashed right through his spectacles. There was a quivering in
his fingers as he grasped the old parchment. He was deeply moved. At
last he gave a preliminary cough, and with profound gravity, naming
in succession the first, then the second letter of each word, he
dictated me the following:
I confess I felt considerably excited in coming to the end; these
letters named, one at a time, had carried no sense to my mind; I
therefore waited for the Professor with great pomp to unfold the
magnificent but hidden Latin of this mysterious phrase.
But who could have foretold the result? A violent thump made the
furniture rattle, and spilt some ink, and my pen dropped from between
"That's not it," cried my uncle, "there's no sense in it."
Then darting out like a shot, bowling down stairs like an avalanche,
he rushed into the Königstrasse and fled.
THE ENEMY TO BE STARVED INTO SUBMISSION
"He is gone!" cried Martha, running out of her kitchen at the noise
of the violent slamming of doors.
"Yes," I replied, "completely gone."
"Well; and how about his dinner?" said the old servant.
"He won't have any."
"And his supper?"
"He won't have any."
"What?" cried Martha, with clasped hands.
"No, my dear Martha, he will eat no more. No one in the house is to
eat anything at all. Uncle Liedenbrock is going to make us all fast
until he has succeeded in deciphering an undecipherable scrawl."
"Oh, my dear! must we then all die of hunger?"
I hardly dared to confess that, with so absolute a ruler as my uncle,
this fate was inevitable.
The old servant, visibly moved, returned to the kitchen, moaning
When I was alone, I thought I would go and tell Gräuben all about it.
But how should I be able to escape from the house? The Professor
might return at any moment. And suppose he called me? And suppose he
tackled me again with this logomachy, which might vainly have been
set before ancient Oedipus. And if I did not obey his call, who could
answer for what might happen?
The wisest course was to remain where I was. A mineralogist at
Besançon had just sent us a collection of siliceous nodules, which I
had to classify: so I set to work; I sorted, labelled, and arranged
in their own glass case all these hollow specimens, in the cavity of
each of which was a nest of little crystals.
But this work did not succeed in absorbing all my attention. That old
document kept working in my brain. My head throbbed with excitement,
and I felt an undefined uneasiness. I was possessed with a
presentiment of coming evil.
In an hour my nodules were all arranged upon successive shelves. Then
I dropped down into the old velvet arm-chair, my head thrown back and
my hands joined over it. I lighted my long crooked pipe, with a
painting on it of an idle-looking naiad; then I amused myself
watching the process of the conversion of the tobacco into carbon,
which was by slow degrees making my naiad into a negress. Now and
then I listened to hear whether a well-known step was on the stairs.
No. Where could my uncle be at that moment? I fancied him running
under the noble trees which line the road to Altona, gesticulating,
making shots with his cane, thrashing the long grass, cutting the
heads off the thistles, and disturbing the contemplative storks in
their peaceful solitude.
Would he return in triumph or in discouragement? Which would get the
upper hand, he or the secret? I was thus asking myself questions, and
mechanically taking between my fingers the sheet of paper
mysteriously disfigured with the incomprehensible succession of
letters I had written down; and I repeated to myself "What does it
I sought to group the letters so as to form words. Quite impossible!
When I put them together by twos, threes, fives or sixes, nothing
came of it but nonsense. To be sure the fourteenth, fifteenth and
sixteenth letters made the English word 'ice'; the eighty-third and
two following made 'sir'; and in the midst of the document, in the
second and third lines, I observed the words, "rots," "mutabile,"
"ira," "net," "atra."
"Come now," I thought, "these words seem to justify my uncle's view
about the language of the document. In the fourth line appeared the
word "luco", which means a sacred wood. It is true that in the third
line was the word "tabiled", which looked like Hebrew, and in the
last the purely French words "mer", "arc", "mere." "
All this was enough to drive a poor fellow crazy. Four different
languages in this ridiculous sentence! What connection could there
possibly be between such words as ice, sir, anger, cruel, sacred
wood, changeable, mother, bow, and sea? The first and the last might
have something to do with each other; it was not at all surprising
that in a document written in Iceland there should be mention of a
sea of ice; but it was quite another thing to get to the end of this
cryptogram with so small a clue. So I was struggling with an
insurmountable difficulty; my brain got heated, my eyes watered over
that sheet of paper; its hundred and thirty-two letters seemed to
flutter and fly around me like those motes of mingled light and
darkness which float in the air around the head when the blood is
rushing upwards with undue violence. I was a prey to a kind of
hallucination; I was stifling; I wanted air. Unconsciously I fanned
myself with the bit of paper, the back and front of which
successively came before my eyes. What was my surprise when, in one
of those rapid revolutions, at the moment when the back was turned to
me I thought I caught sight of the Latin words "craterem,"
"terrestre," and others.
A sudden light burst in upon me; these hints alone gave me the first
glimpse of the truth; I had discovered the key to the cipher. To read
the document, it would not even be necessary to read it through the
paper. Such as it was, just such as it had been dictated to me, so it
might be spelt out with ease. All those ingenious professorial
combinations were coming right. He was right as to the arrangement of
the letters; he was right as to the language. He had been within a
hair's breadth of reading this Latin document from end to end; but
that hair's breadth, chance had given it to me!
You may be sure I felt stirred up. My eyes were dim, I could scarcely
see. I had laid the paper upon the table. At a glance I could tell
the whole secret.
At last I became more calm. I made a wise resolve to walk twice round
the room quietly and settle my nerves, and then I returned into the
deep gulf of the huge armchair.
"Now I'll read it," I cried, after having well distended my lungs
I leaned over the table; I laid my finger successively upon every
letter; and without a pause, without one moment's hesitation, I read
off the whole sentence aloud.
Stupefaction! terror! I sat overwhelmed as if with a sudden deadly
blow. What! that which I read had actually, really been done! A
mortal man had had the audacity to penetrate! . . .
"Ah!" I cried, springing up. "But no! no! My uncle shall never know
it. He would insist upon doing it too. He would want to know all
about it. Ropes could not hold him, such a determined geologist as he
is! He would start, he would, in spite of everything and everybody,
and he would take me with him, and we should never get back. No,
My over-excitement was beyond all description.
"No! no! it shall not be," I declared energetically; "and as it is in
my power to prevent the knowledge of it coming into the mind of my
tyrant, I will do it. By dint of turning this document round and
round, he too might discover the key. I will destroy it."
There was a little fire left on the hearth. I seized not only the
paper but Saknussemm's parchment; with a feverish hand I was about to
fling it all upon the coals and utterly destroy and abolish this
dangerous secret, when the, study door opened, and my uncle appeared.
FAMINE, THEN VICTORY, FOLLOWED BY DISMAY
I had only just time to replace the unfortunate document upon the
Professor Liedenbrock seemed to be greatly abstracted.
The ruling thought gave him no rest. Evidently he had gone deeply
into the matter, analytically and with profound scrutiny. He had
brought all the resources of his mind to bear upon it during his
walk, and he had come back to apply some new combination.
He sat in his armchair, and pen in hand he began what looked very
much like algebraic formula: I followed with my eyes his trembling
hands, I took count of every movement. Might not some unhoped-for
result come of it? I trembled, too, very unnecessarily, since the
true key was in my hands, and no other would open the secret.
For three long hours my uncle worked on without a word, without
lifting his head; rubbing out, beginning again, then rubbing out
again, and so on a hundred times.
I knew very well that if he succeeded in setting down these letters
in every possible relative position, the sentence would come out. But
I knew also that twenty letters alone could form two quintillions,
four hundred and thirty-two quadrillions, nine hundred and two
trillions, eight billions, a hundred and seventy-six millions, six
hundred and forty thousand combinations. Now, here were a hundred and
thirty-two letters in this sentence, and these hundred and thirty-two
letters would give a number of different sentences, each made up of
at least a hundred and thirty-three figures, a number which passed
far beyond all calculation or conception.
So I felt reassured as far as regarded this heroic method of solving
But time was passing away; night came on; the street noises ceased;
my uncle, bending over his task, noticed nothing, not even Martha
half opening the door; he heard not a sound, not even that excellent
"Will not monsieur take any supper to-night?"
And poor Martha had to go away unanswered. As for me, after long
resistance, I was overcome by sleep, and fell off at the end of the
sofa, while uncle Liedenbrock went on calculating and rubbing out his
When I awoke next morning that indefatigable worker was still at his
post. His red eyes, his pale complexion, his hair tangled between his
feverish fingers, the red spots on his cheeks, revealed his desperate
struggle with impossibilities, and the weariness of spirit, the
mental wrestlings he must have undergone all through that unhappy
To tell the plain truth, I pitied him. In spite of the reproaches
which I considered I had a right to lay upon him, a certain feeling
of compassion was beginning to gain upon me. The poor man was so
entirely taken up with his one idea that he had even forgotten how to
get angry. All the strength of his feelings was concentrated upon one
point alone; and as their usual vent was closed, it was to be feared
lest extreme tension should give rise to an explosion sooner or later.
I might with a word have loosened the screw of the steel vice that
was crushing his brain; but that word I would not speak.
Yet I was not an ill-natured fellow. Why was I dumb at such a crisis?
Why so insensible to my uncle's interests?
"No, no," I repeated, "I shall not speak. He would insist upon going;
nothing on earth could stop him. His imagination is a volcano, and to
do that which other geologists have never done he would risk his
life. I will preserve silence. I will keep the secret which mere
chance has revealed to me. To discover it, would be to kill Professor
Liedenbrock! Let him find it out himself if he can. I will never have
it laid to my door that I led him to his destruction."
Having formed this resolution, I folded my arms and waited. But I had
not reckoned upon one little incident which turned up a few hours
When our good Martha wanted to go to Market, she found the door
locked. The big key was gone. Who could have taken it out? Assuredly,
it was my uncle, when he returned the night before from his hurried
Was this done on purpose? Or was it a mistake? Did he want to reduce
us by famine? This seemed like going rather too far! What! should
Martha and I be victims of a position of things in which we had not
the smallest interest? It was a fact that a few years before this,
whilst my uncle was working at his great classification of minerals,
he was forty-eight hours without eating, and all his household were
obliged to share in this scientific fast. As for me, what I remember
is, that I got severe cramps in my stomach, which hardly suited the
constitution of a hungry, growing lad.
Now it appeared to me as if breakfast was going to be wanting, just
as supper had been the night before. Yet I resolved to be a hero, and
not to be conquered by the pangs of hunger. Martha took it very
seriously, and, poor woman, was very much distressed. As for me, the
impossibility of leaving the house distressed me a good deal more,
and for a very good reason. A caged lover's feelings may easily be
My uncle went on working, his imagination went off rambling into the
ideal world of combinations; he was far away from earth, and really
far away from earthly wants.
About noon hunger began to stimulate me severely. Martha had, without
thinking any harm, cleared out the larder the night before, so that
now there was nothing left in the house. Still I held out; I made it
a point of honour.
Two o'clock struck. This was becoming ridiculous; worse than that,
unbearable. I began to say to myself that I was exaggerating the
importance of the document; that my uncle would surely not believe in
it, that he would set it down as a mere puzzle; that if it came to
the worst, we should lay violent hands on him and keep him at home if
he thought on venturing on the expedition that, after all, he might
himself discover the key of the cipher, and that then I should be
clear at the mere expense of my involuntary abstinence.
These reasons seemed excellent to me, though on the night before I
should have rejected them with indignation; I even went so far as to
condemn myself for my absurdity in having waited so long, and I
finally resolved to let it all out.
I was therefore meditating a proper introduction to the matter, so as
not to seem too abrupt, when the Professor jumped up, clapped on his
hat, and prepared to go out.
Surely he was not going out, to shut us in again! no, never!
"Uncle!" I cried.
He seemed not to hear me.
"Uncle Liedenbrock!" I cried, lifting up my voice.
"Ay," he answered like a man suddenly waking.
"Uncle, that key!"
"What key? The door key?"
"No, no!" I cried. "The key of the document."
The Professor stared at me over his spectacles; no doubt he saw
something unusual in the expression of my countenance; for he laid
hold of my arm, and speechlessly questioned me with his eyes. Yes,
never was a question more forcibly put.
I nodded my head up and down.
He shook his pityingly, as if he was dealing with a lunatic. I gave a
more affirmative gesture.
His eyes glistened and sparkled with live fire, his hand was shaken
This mute conversation at such a momentous crisis would have riveted
the attention of the most indifferent. And the fact really was that I
dared not speak now, so intense was the excitement for fear lest my
uncle should smother me in his first joyful embraces. But he became
so urgent that I was at last compelled to answer.
"Yes, that key, chance -"
"What is that you are saying?" he shouted with indescribable emotion.
"There, read that!" I said, presenting a sheet of paper on which I
"But there is nothing in this," he answered, crumpling up the paper.
"No, nothing until you proceed to read from the end to the beginning."
I had not finished my sentence when the Professor broke out into a
cry, nay, a roar. A new revelation burst in upon him. He was
"Aha, clever Saknussemm!" he cried. "You had first written out your
sentence the wrong way."
And darting upon the paper, with eyes bedimmed, and voice choked with
emotion, he read the whole document from the last letter to the first.
It was conceived in the following terms:
In Sneffels Joculis craterem quem delibat
Umbra Scartaris Julii intra calendas descende,
Audax viator, et terrestre centrum attinges.
Quod feci, Arne Saknussemm. 
Which bad Latin may be translated thus:
"Descend, bold traveller, into the crater of the jokul of Sneffels,
which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the kalends of July, and
you will attain the centre of the earth; which I have done, Arne
In reading this, my uncle gave a spring as if he had touched a Leyden
jar. His audacity, his joy, and his convictions were magnificent to
behold. He came and he went; he seized his head between both his
hands; he pushed the chairs out of their places, he piled up his
books; incredible as it may seem, he rattled his precious nodules of
flints together; he sent a kick here, a thump there. At last his
nerves calmed down, and like a man exhausted by too lavish an
expenditure of vital power, he sank back exhausted into his armchair.
"What o'clock is it?" he asked after a few moments of silence.
"Three o'clock," I replied.
"Is it really? The dinner-hour is past, and I did not know it. I am
half dead with hunger. Come on, and after dinner -"
 In the cipher, _audax_ is written _avdas,_ and _quod_ and _quem,_
_hod_ and _ken_. (Tr.)
"After dinner, pack up my trunk."
"What?" I cried.
"And yours!" replied the indefatigable Professor, entering the
EXCITING DISCUSSIONS ABOUT AN UNPARALLELED ENTERPRISE
At these words a cold shiver ran through me. Yet I controlled myself;
I even resolved to put a good face upon it. Scientific arguments
alone could have any weight with Professor Liedenbrock. Now there
were good ones against the practicability of such a journey.
Penetrate to the centre of the earth! What nonsense! But I kept my
dialectic battery in reserve for a suitable opportunity, and I
interested myself in the prospect of my dinner, which was not yet
It is no use to tell of the rage and imprecations of my uncle before
the empty table. Explanations were given, Martha was set at liberty,
ran off to the market, and did her part so well that in an hour
afterwards my hunger was appeased, and I was able to return to the
contemplation of the gravity of the situation.
During all dinner time my uncle was almost merry; he indulged in some
of those learned jokes which never do anybody any harm. Dessert over,
he beckoned me into his study.
I obeyed; he sat at one end of his table, I at the other.
"Axel," said he very mildly; "you are a very ingenious young man, you
have done me a splendid service, at a moment when, wearied out with
the struggle, I was going to abandon the contest. Where should I have
lost myself? None can tell. Never, my lad, shall I forget it; and you
shall have your share in the glory to which your discovery will lead."
"Oh, come!" thought I, "he is in a good way. Now is the time for
discussing that same glory."
"Before all things," my uncle resumed, "I enjoin you to preserve the
most inviolable secrecy: you understand? There are not a few in the
scientific world who envy my success, and many would be ready to
undertake this enterprise, to whom our return should be the first
news of it."
"Do you really think there are many people bold enough?" said I.
"Certainly; who would hesitate to acquire such renown? If that
document were divulged, a whole army of geologists would be ready to
rush into the footsteps of Arne Saknussemm."
"I don't feel so very sure of that, uncle," I replied; "for we have
no proof of the authenticity of this document."
"What! not of the book, inside which we have discovered it?"
"Granted. I admit that Saknussemm may have written these lines. But
does it follow that he has really accomplished such a journey? And
may it not be that this old parchment is intended to mislead?"
I almost regretted having uttered this last word, which dropped from
me in an unguarded moment. The Professor bent his shaggy brows, and I
feared I had seriously compromised my own safety. Happily no great
harm came of it. A smile flitted across the lip of my severe
companion, and he answered:
"That is what we shall see."
"Ah!" said I, rather put out. "But do let me exhaust all the possible
objections against this document."
"Speak, my boy, don't be afraid. You are quite at liberty to express
your opinions. You are no longer my nephew only, but my colleague.
Pray go on."
"Well, in the first place, I wish to ask what are this Jokul, this
Sneffels, and this Scartaris, names which I have never heard before?"
"Nothing easier. I received not long ago a map from my friend,
Augustus Petermann, at Liepzig. Nothing could be more apropos. Take
down the third atlas in the second shelf in the large bookcase,
series Z, plate 4."
I rose, and with the help of such precise instructions could not fail
to find the required atlas. My uncle opened it and said:
"Here is one of the best maps of Iceland, that of Handersen, and I
believe this will solve the worst of our difficulties."
I bent over the map.
"You see this volcanic island," said the Professor; "observe that all
the volcanoes are called jokuls, a word which means glacier in
Icelandic, and under the high latitude of Iceland nearly all the
active volcanoes discharge through beds of ice. Hence this term of
jokul is applied to all the eruptive mountains in Iceland."
"Very good," said I; "but what of Sneffels?"
I was hoping that this question would be unanswerable; but I was
mistaken. My uncle replied:
"Follow my finger along the west coast of Iceland. Do you see
Rejkiavik, the capital? You do. Well; ascend the innumerable fiords
that indent those sea-beaten shores, and stop at the sixty-fifth
degree of latitude. What do you see there?"
"I see a peninsula looking like a thigh bone with the knee bone at
the end of it."
"A very fair comparison, my lad. Now do you see anything upon that
"Yes; a mountain rising out of the sea."
"Right. That is Snæfell."
"It is. It is a mountain five thousand feet high, one of the most
remarkable in the world, if its crater leads down to the centre of
"But that is impossible," I said shrugging my shoulders, and
disgusted at such a ridiculous supposition.
"Impossible?" said the Professor severely; "and why, pray?"
"Because this crater is evidently filled with lava and burning rocks,
and therefore -"
"But suppose it is an extinct volcano?"
"Yes; the number of active volcanoes on the surface of the globe is
at the present time only about three hundred. But there is a very
much larger number of extinct ones. Now, Snæfell is one of these.
Since historic times there has been but one eruption of this
mountain, that of 1219; from that time it has quieted down more and.
more, and now it is no longer reckoned among active volcanoes."
To such positive statements I could make no reply. I therefore took
refuge in other dark passages of the document.
"What is the meaning of this word Scartaris, and what have the
kalends of July to do with it?"
My uncle took a few minutes to consider. For one short moment I felt
a ray of hope, speedily to be extinguished. For he soon answered thus:
"What is darkness to you is light to me. This proves the ingenious
care with which Saknussemm guarded and defined his discovery.
Sneffels, or Snæfell, has several craters. It was therefore necessary
to point out which of these leads to the centre of the globe. What
did the Icelandic sage do? He observed that at the approach of the
kalends of July, that is to say in the last days of June, one of the
peaks, called Scartaris, flung its shadow down the mouth of that
particular crater, and he committed that fact to his document. Could
there possibly have been a more exact guide? As soon as we have
arrived at the summit of Snæfell we shall have no hesitation as to
the proper road to take."
Decidedly, my uncle had answered every one of my objections. I saw
that his position on the old parchment was impregnable. I therefore
ceased to press him upon that part of the subject, and as above all
things he must be convinced, I passed on to scientific objections,
which in my opinion were far more serious.
"Well, then," I said, "I am forced to admit that Saknussemm's
sentence is clear, and leaves no room for doubt. I will even allow
that the document bears every mark and evidence of authenticity. That
learned philosopher did get to the bottom of Sneffels, he has seen
the shadow of Scartaris touch the edge of the crater before the
kalends of July; he may even have heard the legendary stories told in
his day about that crater reaching to the centre of the world; but as
for reaching it himself, as for performing the journey, and
returning, if he ever went, I say no - he never, never did that."
"Now for your reason?" said my uncle ironically.
"All the theories of science demonstrate such a feat to be
"The theories say that, do they?" replied the Professor in the tone
of a meek disciple. "Oh! unpleasant theories! How the theories will
hinder. us, won't they?"
I saw that he was only laughing at me; but I went on all the same.
"Yes; it is perfectly well known that the internal temperature rises
one degree for every 70 feet in depth; now, admitting this proportion
to be constant, and the radius of the earth being fifteen hundred
leagues, there must be a temperature of 360,032 degrees at the centre
of the earth. Therefore, all the substances that compose the body of
this earth must exist there in a state of incandescent gas; for the
metals that most resist the action of heat, gold, and platinum, and
the hardest rocks, can never be either solid or liquid under such a
temperature. I have therefore good reason for asking if it is
possible to penetrate through such a medium."
"So, Axel, it is the heat that troubles you?"
"Of course it is. Were we to reach a depth of thirty miles we should
have arrived at the limit of the terrestrial crust, for there the
temperature will be more than 2372 degrees."
"Are you afraid of being put into a state of fusion?"
"I will leave you to decide that question," I answered rather
sullenly. "This is my decision," replied Professor Liedenbrock,
putting on one of his grandest airs. "Neither you nor anybody else
knows with any certainty what is going on in the interior of this
globe, since not the twelve thousandth part of its radius is known;
science is eminently perfectible; and every new theory is soon routed
by a newer. Was it not always believed until Fourier that the
temperature of the interplanetary spaces decreased perpetually? and
is it not known at the present time that the greatest cold of the
ethereal regions is never lower than 40 degrees below zero Fahr.? Why
should it not be the same with the internal heat? Why should it not,
at a certain depth, attain an impassable limit, instead of rising to
such a point as to fuse the most infusible metals?"
As my uncle was now taking his stand upon hypotheses, of course,
there was nothing to be said.
"Well, I will tell you that true savants, amongst them Poisson, have
demonstrated that if a heat of 360,000 degrees  existed in the
interior of the globe, the fiery gases arising from the fused matter
would acquire an elastic force which the crust of the earth would be
unable to resist, and that it would explode like the plates of a
"That is Poisson's opinion, my uncle, nothing more."
"Granted. But it is likewise the creed adopted by other distinguished
geologists, that the interior of the globe is neither gas nor water,
nor any of the heaviest minerals known, for in none of these cases
would the earth weigh what it does."
"Oh, with figures you may prove anything!"
"But is it the same with facts! Is it not known that the number of
volcanoes has diminished since the first days of creation? and if
there is central heat may we not thence conclude that it is in
process of diminution?"
"My good uncle, if you will enter into the legion of speculation, I
can discuss the matter no longer."
"But I have to tell you that the highest names have come to the
support of my views. Do you remember a visit paid to me by the
celebrated chemist, Humphry Davy, in 1825?"
"Not at all, for I was not born until nineteen years afterwards."
"Well, Humphry Davy did call upon me on his way through Hamburg. We
were long engaged in discussing, amongst other problems, the
hypothesis of the liquid structure of the terrestrial nucleus. We
were agreed that it could not be in a liquid state, for a reason
which science has never been able to confute."
 The degrees of temperature are given by Jules Verne according to
the centigrade system, for which we will in each case substitute the
Fahrenheit measurement. (Tr.)
"What is that reason?" I said, rather astonished.
"Because this liquid mass would be subject, like the ocean, to the
lunar attraction, and therefore twice every day there would be
internal tides, which, upheaving the terrestrial crust, would cause
"Yet it is evident that the surface of the globe has been subject to
the action of fire," I replied, "and it is quite reasonable to
suppose that the external crust cooled down first, whilst the heat
took refuge down to the centre."
"Quite a mistake," my uncle answered. "The earth has been heated by
combustion on its surface, that is all. Its surface was composed of a
great number of metals, such as potassium and sodium, which have the
peculiar property of igniting at the mere contact with air and water;
these metals kindled when the atmospheric vapours fell in rain upon
the soil; and by and by, when the waters penetrated into the fissures
of the crust of the earth, they broke out into fresh combustion with
explosions and eruptions. Such was the cause of the numerous
volcanoes at the origin of the earth."
"Upon my word, this is a very clever hypothesis," I exclaimed, in
spite rather of myself.
"And which Humphry Davy demonstrated to me by a simple experiment. He
formed a small ball of the metals which I have named, and which was a
very fair representation of our globe; whenever he caused a fine dew
of rain to fall upon its surface, it heaved up into little
monticules, it became oxydized and formed miniature mountains; a
crater broke open at one of its summits; the eruption took place, and
communicated to the whole of the ball such a heat that it could not
be held in the hand."
In truth, I was beginning to be shaken by the Professor's arguments,
besides which he gave additional weight to them by his usual ardour
and fervent enthusiasm.
"You see, Axel," he added, "the condition of the terrestrial nucleus
has given rise to various hypotheses among geologists; there is no
proof at all for this internal heat; my opinion is that there is no
such thing, it cannot be; besides we shall see for ourselves, and,
like Arne Saknussemm, we shall know exactly what to hold as truth
concerning this grand question."
"Very well, we shall see," I replied, feeling myself carried off by
his contagious enthusiasm. "Yes, we shall see; that is, if it is
possible to see anything there."
"And why not? May we not depend upon electric phenomena to give us
light? May we not even expect light from the atmosphere, the pressure
of which may render it luminous as we approach the centre?"
"Yes, yes," said I; "that is possible, too."
"It is certain," exclaimed my uncle in a tone of triumph. "But
silence, do you hear me? silence upon the whole subject; and let no
one get before us in this design of discovering the centre of the
A WOMAN'S COURAGE
Thus ended this memorable seance. That conversation threw me into a
fever. I came out of my uncle's study as if I had been stunned, and
as if there was not air enough in all the streets of Hamburg to put
me right again. I therefore made for the banks of the Elbe, where the
steamer lands her passengers, which forms the communication between
the city and the Hamburg railway.
Was I convinced of the truth of what I had heard? Had I not bent
under the iron rule of the Professor Liedenbrock? Was I to believe
him in earnest in his intention to penetrate to the centre of this
massive globe? Had I been listening to the mad speculations of a
lunatic, or to the scientific conclusions of a lofty genius? Where
did truth stop? Where did error begin?
I was all adrift amongst a thousand contradictory hypotheses, but I
could not lay hold of one.
Yet I remembered that I had been convinced, although now my
enthusiasm was beginning to cool down; but I felt a desire to start
at once, and not to lose time and courage by calm reflection. I had
at that moment quite courage enough to strap my knapsack to my
shoulders and start.
But I must confess that in another hour this unnatural excitement
abated, my nerves became unstrung, and from the depths of the abysses
of this earth I ascended to its surface again.
"It is quite absurd!" I cried, "there is no sense about it. No
sensible young man should for a moment entertain such a proposal. The
whole thing is non-existent. I have had a bad night, I have been
dreaming of horrors."
But I had followed the banks of the Elbe and passed the town. After
passing the port too, I had reached the Altona road. I was led by a
presentiment, soon to be realised; for shortly I espied my little
Gräuben bravely returning with her light step to Hamburg.
"Gräuben!" I cried from afar off.
The young girl stopped, rather frightened perhaps to hear her name
called after her on the high road. Ten yards more, and I had joined
"Axel!" she cried surprised. "What! have you come to meet me? Is this
why you are here, sir?"
But when she had looked upon me, Gräuben could not fail to see the
uneasiness and distress of my mind.
"What is the matter?" she said, holding out her hand.
"What is the matter, Gräuben?" I cried.
In a couple of minutes my pretty Virlandaise was fully informed of
the position of affairs. For a time she was silent. Did her heart
palpitate as mine did? I don't know about that, but I know that her
hand did not tremble in mine. We went on a hundred yards without
At last she said, "Axel!"
"My dear Gräuben."
"That will be a splendid journey!"
I gave a bound at these words.
"Yes, Axel, a journey worthy of the nephew of a savant; it is a good
thing for a man to be distinguished by some great enterprise."
"What, Gräuben, won't you dissuade me from such an undertaking?"
"No, my dear Axel, and I would willingly go with you, but that a poor
girl would only be in your way."
"Is that quite true?"
"It is true."
Ah! women and young girls, how incomprehensible are your feminine
hearts! When you are not the timidest, you are the bravest of
creatures. Reason has nothing to do with your actions. What! did this
child encourage me in such an expedition! Would she not be afraid to
join it herself? And she was driving me to it, one whom she loved!
I was disconcerted, and, if I must tell the whole truth, I was
"Gräuben, we will see whether you will say the same thing tomorrow."
"To-morrow, dear Axel, I will say what I say to-day."
Gräuben and I, hand in hand, but in silence, pursued our way. The
emotions of that day were breaking my heart.
After all, I thought, the kalends of July are a long way off, and
between this and then many things may take place which will cure my
uncle of his desire to travel underground.
It was night when we arrived at the house in Königstrasse. I expected
to find all quiet there, my uncle in bed as was his custom, and
Martha giving her last touches with the feather brush.
But I had not taken into account the Professor's impatience. I found
him shouting- and working himself up amidst a crowd of porters and
messengers who were all depositing various loads in the passage. Our
old servant was at her wits' end.
"Come, Axel, come, you miserable wretch," my uncle cried from as far
off as he could see me. "Your boxes are not packed, and my papers are
not arranged; where's the key of my carpet bag? and what have you
done with my gaiters?"
I stood thunderstruck. My voice failed. Scarcely could my lips utter
"Are we really going?"
"Of course, you unhappy boy! Could I have dreamed that yon would have
gone out for a walk instead of hurrying your preparations forward?"
"Are we to go?" I asked again, with sinking hopes.
"Yes; the day after to-morrow, early."
I could hear no more. I fled for refuge into my own little room.
All hope was now at an end. My uncle had been all the morning making
purchases of a part of the tools and apparatus required for this
desperate undertaking. The passage was encumbered with rope ladders,
knotted cords, torches, flasks, grappling irons, alpenstocks,
pickaxes, iron shod sticks, enough to load ten men.
I spent an awful night. Next morning I was called early. I had quite
decided I would not open the door. But how was I to resist the sweet
voice which was always music to my ears, saying, "My dear Axel?"
I came out of my room. I thought my pale countenance and my red and
sleepless eyes would work upon Gräuben's sympathies and change her
"Ah! my dear Axel," she said. "I see you are better. A night's rest
has done you good."
"Done me good!" I exclaimed.
I rushed to the glass. Well, in fact I did look better than I had
expected. I could hardly believe my own eyes.
"Axel," she said, "I have had a long talk with my guardian. He is a
bold philosopher, a man of immense courage, and you must remember
that his blood flows in your veins. He has confided to me his plans,
his hopes, and why and how he hopes to attain his object. He will no
doubt succeed. My dear Axel, it is a grand thing to devote yourself
to science! What honour will fall upon Herr Liedenbrock, and so be
reflected upon his companion! When you return, Axel, you will be a
man, his equal, free to speak and to act independently, and free to
The dear girl only finished this sentence by blushing. Her words
revived me. Yet I refused to believe we should start. I drew Gräuben
into the Professor's study.
"Uncle, is it true that we are to go?"
"Why do you doubt?"
"Well, I don't doubt," I said, not to vex him; "but, I ask, what need
is there to hurry?"
"Time, time, flying with irreparable rapidity."
"But it is only the 16th May, and until the end of June --"
"What, you monument of ignorance! do you think you can get to Iceland
in a couple of days? If you had not deserted me like a fool I should
have taken you to the Copenhagen office, to Liffender & Co., and you
would have learned then that there is only one trip every month from
Copenhagen to Rejkiavik, on the 22nd."
"Well, if we waited for the 22nd June we should be too late to see
the shadow of Scartaris touch the crater of Sneffels. Therefore we
must get to Copenhagen as fast as we can to secure our passage. Go
and pack up."
There was no reply to this. I went up to my room. Gräuben followed
me. She undertook to pack up all things necessary for my voyage. She
was no more moved than if I had been starting for a little trip to
Lübeck or Heligoland. Her little hands moved without haste. She
talked quietly. She supplied me with sensible reasons for our
expedition. She delighted me, and yet I was angry with her. Now and
then I felt I ought to break out into a passion, but she took no
notice and went on her way as methodically as ever.
Finally the last strap was buckled; I came downstairs. All that day
the philosophical instrument makers and the electricians kept coming
and going. Martha was distracted.
"Is master mad?" she asked.
I nodded my head.
"And is he going to take you with him?"
I nodded again.
I pointed with my finger downward.
"Down into the cellar?" cried the old servant.
"No," I said. "Lower down than that."
Night came. But I knew nothing about the lapse of time.
"To-morrow morning at six precisely," my uncle decreed "we start."
At ten o'clock I fell upon my bed, a dead lump of inert matter. All
through the night terror had hold of me. I spent it dreaming of
abysses. I was a prey to delirium. I felt myself grasped by the
Professor's sinewy hand, dragged along, hurled down, shattered into
little bits. I dropped down unfathomable precipices with the
accelerating velocity of bodies falling through space. My life had
become an endless fall. I awoke at five with shattered nerves,
trembling and weary. I came downstairs. My uncle was at table,
devouring his breakfast. I stared at him with horror and disgust. But
dear Gräuben was there; so I said nothing, and could eat nothing.
At half-past five there was a rattle of wheels outside. A large
carriage was there to take us to the Altona railway station. It was
soon piled up with my uncle's multifarious preparations.
"Where's your box?" he cried.
"It is ready," I replied, with faltering voice.
"Then make haste down, or we shall lose the train."
It was now manifestly impossible to maintain the struggle against
destiny. I went up again to my room, and rolling my portmanteaus
downstairs I darted after him.
At that moment my uncle was solemnly investing Gräuben with the reins
of government. My pretty Virlandaise was as calm and collected as was
her wont. She kissed her guardian; but could not restrain a tear in
touching my cheek with her gentle lips.
"Gräuben!" I murmured.
"Go, my dear Axel, go! I am now your betrothed; and when you come
back I will be your wife."
I pressed her in my arms and took my place in the carriage. Martha
and the young girl, standing at the door, waved their last farewell.
Then the horses, roused by the driver's whistling, darted off at a
gallop on the road to Altona.
SERIOUS PREPARATIONS FOR VERTICAL DESCENT
Altona, which is but a suburb of Hamburg, is the terminus of the Kiel
railway, which was to carry us to the Belts. In twenty minutes we
were in Holstein.
At half-past six the carriage stopped at the station; my uncle's
numerous packages, his voluminous _impedimenta,_ were unloaded,
removed, labelled, weighed, put into the luggage vans, and at seven
we were seated face to face in our compartment. The whistle sounded,
the engine started, we were off.
Was I resigned? No, not yet. Yet the cool morning air and the scenes
on the road, rapidly changed by the swiftness of the train, drew me
away somewhat from my sad reflections.
As for the Professor's reflections, they went far in advance of the
swiftest express. We were alone in the carriage, but we sat in
silence. My uncle examined all his pockets and his travelling bag
with the minutest care. I saw that he had not forgotten the smallest
matter of detail.
Amongst other documents, a sheet of paper, carefully folded, bore the
heading of the Danish consulate with the signature of W.
Christiensen, consul at Hamburg and the Professor's friend. With this
we possessed the proper introductions to the Governor of Iceland.
I also observed the famous document most carefully laid up in a
secret pocket in his portfolio. I bestowed a malediction upon it, and
then proceeded to examine the country.
It was a very long succession of uninteresting loamy and fertile
flats, a very easy country for the construction of railways, and
propitious for the laying-down of these direct level lines so dear to
I had no time to get tired of the monotony; for in three hours we
stopped at Kiel, close to the sea.
The luggage being labelled for Copenhagen, we had no occasion to look
after it. Yet the Professor watched every article with jealous
vigilance, until all were safe on board. There they disappeared in
My uncle, notwithstanding his hurry, had so well calculated the
relations between the train and the steamer that we had a whole day
to spare. The steamer _Ellenora,_ did not start until night. Thence
sprang a feverish state of excitement in which the impatient
irascible traveller devoted to perdition the railway directors and
the steamboat companies and the governments which allowed such
intolerable slowness. I was obliged to act chorus to him when he
attacked the captain of the _Ellenora_ upon this subject. The captain
disposed of us summarily.
At Kiel, as elsewhere, we must do something to while away the time.
What with walking on the verdant shores of the bay within which
nestles the little town, exploring the thick woods which make it look
like a nest embowered amongst thick foliage, admiring the villas,
each provided with a little bathing house, and moving about and
grumbling, at last ten o'clock came.
The heavy coils of smoke from the _Ellenora's_ funnel unrolled in the
sky, the bridge shook with the quivering of the struggling steam; we
were on board, and owners for the time of two berths, one over the
other, in the only saloon cabin on board.
At a quarter past the moorings were loosed and the throbbing steamer
pursued her way over the dark waters of the Great Belt.
The night was dark; there was a sharp breeze and a rough sea, a few
lights appeared on shore through the thick darkness; later on, I
cannot tell when, a dazzling light from some lighthouse threw a
bright stream of fire along the waves; and this is all I can remember
of this first portion of our sail.
At seven in the morning we landed at Korsor, a small town on the west
coast of Zealand. There we were transferred from the boat to another
line of railway, which took us by just as flat a country as the plain
Three hours' travelling brought us to the capital of Denmark. My
uncle had not shut his eyes all night. In his impatience I believe he
was trying to accelerate the train with his feet.
At last he discerned a stretch of sea.
"The Sound!" he cried.
At our left was a huge building that looked like a hospital.
"That's a lunatic asylum," said one of or travelling companions.
Very good! thought I, just the place we want to end our days in; and
great as it is, that asylum is not big enough to contain all
Professor Liedenbrock's madness!
At ten in the morning, at last, we set our feet in Copenhagen; the
luggage was put upon a carriage and taken with ourselves to the
Phoenix Hotel in Breda Gate. This took half an hour, for the station
is out of the town. Then my uncle, after a hasty toilet, dragged me
after him. The porter at the hotel could speak German and English;
but the Professor, as a polyglot, questioned him in good Danish, and
it was in the same language that that personage directed him to the
Museum of Northern Antiquities.
The curator of this curious establishment, in which wonders are
gathered together out of which the ancient history of the country
might be reconstructed by means of its stone weapons, its cups and
its jewels, was a learned savant, the friend of the Danish consul at
Hamburg, Professor Thomsen.
My uncle had a cordial letter of introduction to him. As a general
rule one savant greets another with coolness. But here the case was
different. M. Thomsen, like a good friend, gave the Professor
Liedenbrock a cordial greeting, and he even vouchsafed the same
kindness to his nephew. It is hardly necessary to say the secret was
sacredly kept from the excellent curator; we were simply
disinterested travellers visiting Iceland out of harmless curiosity.
M. Thomsen placed his services at our disposal, and we visited the
quays with the object of finding out the next vessel to sail.
I was yet in hopes that there would be no means of getting to
Iceland. But there was no such luck. A small Danish schooner, the
_Valkyria_, was to set sail for Rejkiavik on the 2nd of June. The
captain, M. Bjarne, was on board. His intending passenger was so
joyful that he almost squeezed his hands till they ached. That good
man was rather surprised at his energy. To him it seemed a very
simple thing to go to Iceland, as that was his business; but to my
uncle it was sublime. The worthy captain took advantage of his
enthusiasm to charge double fares; but we did not trouble ourselves
about mere trifles. .
"You must be on board on Tuesday, at seven in the morning," said
Captain Bjarne, after having pocketed more dollars than were his due.
Then we thanked M. Thomsen for his kindness, "and we returned to the
"It's all right, it's all right," my uncle repeated. "How fortunate
we are to have found this boat ready for sailing. Now let us have
some breakfast and go about the town."
We went first to Kongens-nye-Torw, an irregular square in which are
two innocent-looking guns, which need not alarm any one. Close by, at
No. 5, there was a French "restaurant," kept by a cook of the name of
Vincent, where we had an ample breakfast for four marks each (2_s_.
Then I took a childish pleasure in exploring the city; my uncle let
me take him with me, but he took notice of nothing, neither the
insignificant king's palace, nor the pretty seventeenth century
bridge, which spans the canal before the museum, nor that immense
cenotaph of Thorwaldsen's, adorned with horrible mural painting, and
containing within it a collection of the sculptor's works, nor in a
fine park the toylike chateau of Rosenberg, nor the beautiful
renaissance edifice of the Exchange, nor its spire composed of the
twisted tails of four bronze dragons, nor the great windmill on the
ramparts, whose huge arms dilated in the sea breeze like the sails of
What delicious walks we should have had together, my pretty
Virlandaise and I, along the harbour where the two-deckers and the
frigate slept peaceably by the red roofing of the warehouse, by the
green banks of the strait, through the deep shades of the trees
amongst which the fort is half concealed, where the guns are
thrusting out their black throats between branches of alder and
But, alas! Gräuben was far away; and I never hoped to see her again.
But if my uncle felt no attraction towards these romantic scenes he
was very much struck with the aspect of a certain church spire
situated in the island of Amak, which forms the south-west quarter of
I was ordered to direct my feet that way; I embarked on a small
steamer which plies on the canals, and in a few minutes she touched
the quay of the dockyard.
After crossing a few narrow streets where some convicts, in trousers
half yellow and half grey, were at work under the orders of the
gangers, we arrived at the Vor Frelsers Kirk. There was nothing
remarkable about the church; but there was a reason why its tall
spire had attracted the Professor's attention. Starting from the top
of the tower, an external staircase wound around the spire, the
spirals circling up into the sky.
"Let us get to the top," said my uncle.
"I shall be dizzy," I said.
"The more reason why we should go up; we must get used to it."
"Come, I tell you; don't waste our time."
I had to obey. A keeper who lived at the other end of the street
handed us the key, and the ascent began.
My uncle went ahead with a light step. I followed him not without
alarm, for my head was very apt to feel dizzy; I possessed neither
the equilibrium of an eagle nor his fearless nature.
As long as we were protected on the inside of the winding staircase
up the tower, all was well enough; but after toiling up a hundred and
fifty steps the fresh air came to salute my face, and we were on the
leads of the tower. There the aerial staircase began its gyrations,
only guarded by a thin iron rail, and the narrowing steps seemed to
ascend into infinite space!
"Never shall I be able to do it," I said.
"Don't be a coward; come up, sir"; said my uncle with the coldest
I had to follow, clutching at every step. The keen air made me giddy;
I felt the spire rocking with every gust of wind; my knees began to
fail; soon I was crawling on my knees, then creeping on my stomach; I
closed my eyes; I seemed to be lost in space.
At last I reached the apex, with the assistance of my uncle dragging
me up by the collar.
"Look down!" he cried. "Look down well! You must take a lesson
I opened my eyes. I saw houses squashed flat as if they had all
fallen down from the skies; a smoke fog seemed to drown them. Over my
head ragged clouds were drifting past, and by an optical inversion
they seemed stationary, while the steeple, the ball and I were all
spinning along with fantastic speed. Far away on one side was the
green country, on the other the sea sparkled, bathed in sunlight. The
Sound stretched away to Elsinore, dotted with a few white sails, like
sea-gulls' wings; and in the misty east and away to the north-east
lay outstretched the faintly-shadowed shores of Sweden. All this
immensity of space whirled and wavered, fluctuating beneath my eyes.
But I was compelled to rise, to stand up, to look. My first lesson in
dizziness lasted an hour. When I got permission to come down and feel
the solid street pavements I was afflicted with severe lumbago.
"To-morrow we will do it again," said the Professor.
And it was so; for five days in succession, I was obliged to undergo
this anti-vertiginous exercise; and whether I would or not, I made
some improvement in the art of "lofty contemplations."
ICELAND! BUT WHAT NEXT?
The day for our departure arrived. The day before it our kind friend
M. Thomsen brought us letters of introduction to Count Trampe, the
Governor of Iceland, M. Picturssen, the bishop's suffragan, and M.
Finsen, mayor of Rejkiavik. My uncle expressed his gratitude by
tremendous compressions of both his hands.
On the 2nd, at six in the evening, all our precious baggage being
safely on board the _Valkyria,_ the captain took us into a very
"Is the wind favourable?" my uncle asked.
"Excellent," replied Captain Bjarne; "a sou'-easter. We shall pass
down the Sound full speed, with all sails set."
In a few minutes the schooner, under her mizen, brigantine, topsail,
and topgallant sail, loosed from her moorings and made full sail
through the straits. In an hour the capital of Denmark seemed to sink
below the distant waves, and the _Valkyria_ was skirting the coast by
Elsinore. In my nervous frame of mind I expected to see the ghost of
Hamlet wandering on the legendary castle terrace.
"Sublime madman!" I said, "no doubt you would approve of our
expedition. Perhaps you would keep us company to the centre of the
globe, to find the solution of your eternal doubts."
But there was no ghostly shape upon the ancient walls. Indeed, the
castle is much younger than the heroic prince of Denmark. It now
answers the purpose of a sumptuous lodge for the doorkeeper of the
straits of the Sound, before which every year there pass fifteen
thousand ships of all nations.
The castle of Kronsberg soon disappeared in the mist, as well as the
tower of Helsingborg, built on the Swedish coast, and the schooner
passed lightly on her way urged by the breezes of the Cattegat.
The _Valkyria_ was a splendid sailer, but on a sailing vessel you can
place no dependence. She was taking to Rejkiavik coal, household
goods, earthenware, woollen clothing, and a cargo of wheat. The crew
consisted of five men, all Danes.
"How long will the passage take?" my uncle asked.
"Ten days," the captain replied, "if we don't meet a nor'-wester in
passing the Faroes."
"But are you not subject to considerable delays?"
"No, M. Liedenbrock, don't be uneasy, we shall get there in very good
At evening the schooner doubled the Skaw at the northern point of
Denmark, in the night passed the Skager Rack, skirted Norway by Cape
Lindness, and entered the North Sea.
In two days more we sighted the coast of Scotland near Peterhead,,and
the _Valkyria_ turned her lead towards the Faroe Islands, passing
between the Orkneys and Shetlands.
Soon the schooner encountered the great Atlantic swell; she had to
tack against the north wind, and reached the Faroes only with some
difficulty. On the 8th the captain made out Myganness, the
southernmost of these islands, and from that moment took a straight
course for Cape Portland, the most southerly point of Iceland.
The passage was marked by nothing unusual. I bore the troubles of the
sea pretty well; my uncle, to his own intense disgust, and his
greater shame, was ill all through the voyage.
He therefore was unable to converse with the captain about Snæfell,
the way to get to it, the facilities for transport, he was obliged to
put off these inquiries until his arrival, and spent all his time at
full length in his cabin, of which the timbers creaked and shook with
every pitch she took. It must be confessed he was not undeserving of
On the 11th we reached Cape Portland. The clear open weather gave us
a good view of Myrdals jokul, which overhangs it. The cape is merely
a low hill with steep sides, standing lonely by the beach.
The _Valkyria_ kept at some distance from the coast, taking a
westerly course amidst great shoals of whales and sharks. Soon we
came in sight of an enormous perforated rock, through which the sea
dashed furiously. The Westman islets seemed to rise out of the ocean
like a group of rocks in a liquid plain. From that time the schooner
took a wide berth and swept at a great distance round Cape
Rejkianess, which forms the western point of Iceland.
The rough sea prevented my uncle from coming on deck to admire these
shattered and surf-beaten coasts.
Forty-eight hours after, coming out of a storm which forced the
schooner to scud under bare poles, we sighted east of us the beacon
on Cape Skagen, where dangerous rocks extend far away seaward. An
Icelandic pilot came on board, and in three hours the _Valkyria_
dropped her anchor before Rejkiavik, in Faxa Bay.
The Professor at last emerged from his cabin, rather pale and
wretched-looking, but still full of enthusiasm, and with ardent
satisfaction shining in his eyes.
The population of the town, wonderfully interested in the arrival of
a vessel from which every one expected something, formed in groups
upon the quay.
My uncle left in haste his floating prison, or rather hospital. But
before quitting the deck of the schooner he dragged me forward, and
pointing with outstretched finger north of the bay at a distant
mountain terminating in a double peak, a pair of cones covered with
perpetual snow, he cried:
Then recommending me, by an impressive gesture, to keep silence, he
went into the boat which awaited him. I followed, and presently we
were treading the soil of Iceland.
The first man we saw was a good-looking fellow enough, in a general's
uniform. Yet he was not a general but a magistrate, the Governor of
the island, M. le Baron Trampe himself. The Professor was soon aware
of the presence he was in. He delivered him his letters from
Copenhagen, and then followed a short conversation in the Danish
language, the purport of which I was quite ignorant of, and for a
very good reason. But the result of this first conversation was, that
Baron Trampe placed himself entirely at the service of Professor
My uncle was just as courteously received by the mayor, M. Finsen,
whose appearance was as military, and disposition and office as
pacific, as the Governor's.
As for the bishop's suffragan, M. Picturssen, he was at that moment
engaged on an episcopal visitation in the north. For the time we must
be resigned to wait for the honour of being presented to him. But M.
Fridrikssen, professor of natural sciences at the school of
Rejkiavik, was a delightful man, and his friendship became very
precious to me. This modest philosopher spoke only Danish and Latin.
He came to proffer me his good offices in the language of Horace, and
I felt that we were made to understand each other. In fact he was the
only person in Iceland with whom I could converse at all.
This good-natured gentleman made over to us two of the three rooms
which his house contained, and we were soon installed in it with all
our luggage, the abundance of which rather astonished the good people
"Well, Axel," said my uncle, "we are getting on, and now the worst is
"The worst!" I said, astonished.
"To be sure, now we have nothing to do but go down."
"Oh, if that is all, you are quite right; but after all, when we have
gone down, we shall have to get up again, I suppose?"
"Oh I don't trouble myself about that. Come, there's no time to lose;
I am going to the library. Perhaps there is some manuscript of
Saknussemm's there, and I should be glad to consult it."
"Well, while you are there I will go into the town. Won't you?"
"Oh, that is very uninteresting to me. It is not what is upon this
island, but what is underneath, that interests me."
I went out, and wandered wherever chance took me.
It would not be easy to lose your way in Rejkiavik. I was therefore
under no necessity to inquire the road, which exposes one to mistakes
when the only medium of intercourse is gesture.
The town extends along a low and marshy level, between two hills. An
immense bed of lava bounds it on one side, and falls gently towards
the sea. On the other extends the vast bay of Faxa, shut in at the
north by the enormous glacier of the Snæfell, and of which the
_Valkyria_ was for the time the only occupant. Usually the English
and French conservators of fisheries moor in this bay, but just then
they were cruising about the western coasts of the island.
The longest of the only two streets that Rejkiavik possesses was
parallel with the beach. Here live the merchants and traders, in
wooden cabins made of red planks set horizontally; the other street,
running west, ends at the little lake between the house of the bishop
and other non-commercial people.
I had soon explored these melancholy ways; here and there I got a
glimpse of faded turf, looking like a worn-out bit of carpet, or some
appearance of a kitchen garden, the sparse vegetables of which
(potatoes, cabbages, and lettuces), would have figured appropriately
upon a Lilliputian table. A few sickly wallflowers were trying to
enjoy the air and sunshine.
About the middle of the tin-commercial street I found the public
cemetery, inclosed with a mud wall, and where there seemed plenty of
Then a few steps brought me to the Governor's house, a but compared
with the town hall of Hamburg, a palace in comparison with the cabins
of the Icelandic population.
Between the little lake and the town the church is built in the
Protestant style, of calcined stones extracted out of the volcanoes
by their own labour and at their own expense; in high westerly winds
it was manifest that the red tiles of the roof would be scattered in
the air, to the great danger of the faithful worshippers.
On a neighbouring hill I perceived the national school, where, as I
was informed later by our host, were taught Hebrew, English, French,
and Danish, four languages of which, with shame I confess it, I don't
know a single word; after an examination I should have had to stand
last of the forty scholars educated at this little college, and I
should have been held unworthy to sleep along with them in one of
those little double closets, where more delicate youths would have
died of suffocation the very first night.
In three hours I had seen not only the town but its environs. The
general aspect was wonderfully dull. No trees, and scarcely any
vegetation. Everywhere bare rocks, signs of volcanic action. The
Icelandic buts are made of earth and turf, and the walls slope
inward; they rather resemble roofs placed on the ground. But then
these roofs are meadows of comparative fertility. Thanks to the
internal heat, the grass grows on them to some degree of perfection.
It is carefully mown in the hay season; if it were not, the horses
would come to pasture on these green abodes.
In my excursion I met but few people. On returning to the main street
I found the greater part of the population busied in drying, salting,
and putting on board codfish, their chief export. The men looked like
robust but heavy, blond Germans with pensive eyes, conscious of being
far removed from their fellow creatures, poor exiles relegated to
this land of ice, poor creatures who should have been Esquimaux,
since nature had condemned them to live only just outside the arctic
circle! In vain did I try to detect a smile upon their lips;
sometimes by a spasmodic and involuntary contraction of the muscles
they seemed to laugh, but they never smiled.
Their costume consisted of a coarse jacket of black woollen cloth
called in Scandinavian lands a 'vadmel,' a hat with a very broad
brim, trousers with a narrow edge of red, and a bit of leather rolled
round the foot for shoes.
The women looked as sad and as resigned as the men; their faces were
agreeable but expressionless, and they wore gowns and petticoats of
dark 'vadmel'; as maidens, they wore over their braided hair a little
knitted brown cap; when married, they put around their heads a
coloured handkerchief, crowned with a peak of white linen.
After a good walk I returned to M. Fridrikssen's house, where I found
my uncle already in his host's company.
INTERESTING CONVERSATIONS WITH ICELANDIC SAVANTS
Dinner was ready. Professor Liedenbrock devoured his portion
voraciously, for his compulsory fast on board had converted his
stomach into a vast unfathomable gulf. There was nothing remarkable
in the meal itself; but the hospitality of our host, more Danish than
Icelandic, reminded me of the heroes of old. It was evident that we
were more at home than he was himself.
The conversation was carried on in the vernacular tongue, which my
uncle mixed with German and M. Fridrikssen with Latin for my benefit.
It turned upon scientific questions as befits philosophers; but
Professor Liedenbrock was excessively reserved, and at every sentence
spoke to me with his eyes, enjoining the most absolute silence upon
In the first place M. Fridrikssen wanted to know what success my
uncle had had at the library.
"Your library! why there is nothing but a few tattered books upon
almost deserted shelves."
"Indeed!" replied M. Fridrikssen, "why we possess eight thousand
volumes, many of them valuable and scarce, works in the old
Scandinavian language, and we have all the novelties that Copenhagen
sends us every year."
"Where do you keep your eight thousand volumes? For my part -"
"Oh, M. Liedenbrock, they are all over the country. In this icy
region we are fond of study. There is not a farmer nor a fisherman
that cannot read and does not read. Our principle is, that books,
instead of growing mouldy behind an iron grating, should be worn out
under the eyes of many readers. Therefore, these volumes are passed
from one to another, read over and over, referred to again and again;
and it often happens that they find their way back to their shelves
only after an absence of a year or two."
"And in the meantime," said my uncle rather spitefully, "strangers --"
"Well, what would you have? Foreigners have their libraries at home,
and the first essential for labouring people is that they should be
educated. I repeat to you the love of reading runs in Icelandic
blood. In 1816 we founded a prosperous literary society; learned
strangers think themselves honoured in becoming members of it. It
publishes books which educate our fellow-countrymen, and do the
country great service. If you will consent to be a corresponding
member, Herr Liedenbrock, you will be giving us great pleasure."
My uncle, who had already joined about a hundred learned societies,
accepted with a grace which evidently touched M. Fridrikssen.
"Now," said he, "will you be kind enough to tell me what books you
hoped to find in our library and I may perhaps enable you to consult
My uncle's eyes and mine met. He hesitated. This direct question went
to the root of the matter. But after a moment's reflection he decided
"Monsieur Fridrikssen, I wished to know if amongst your ancient books
you possessed any of the works of Arne Saknussemm?"
"Arne Saknussemm!" replied the Rejkiavik professor. "You mean that
learned sixteenth century savant, a naturalist, a chemist, and a
"One of the glories of Icelandic literature and science?"
"That's the man."
"An illustrious man anywhere!"
"And whose courage was equal to his genius!"
"I see that you know him well."
My uncle was bathed in delight at hearing his hero thus described. He
feasted his eyes upon M. Fridrikssen's face.
"Well," he cried, "where are his works?"
"His works, we have them not."
"What - not in Iceland?"
"They are neither in Iceland nor anywhere else."
"Why is that?"
"Because Arne Saknussemm was persecuted for heresy, and in 1573 his
books were burned by the hands of the common hangman."
"Very good! Excellent!" cried my uncle, to the great scandal of the
professor of natural history.
"What!" he cried.
"Yes, yes; now it is all clear, now it is all unravelled; and I see
why Saknussemm, put into the Index Expurgatorius, and compelled to
hide the discoveries made by his genius, was obliged to bury in an
incomprehensible cryptogram the secret -"
"What secret?" asked M. Fridrikssen, starting.
"Oh, just a secret which -" my uncle stammered.
"Have you some private document in your possession?" asked our host.
"No; I was only supposing a case."
"Oh, very well," answered M. Fridrikssen, who was kind enough not to
pursue the subject when he had noticed the embarrassment of his
friend. "I hope you will not leave our island until you have seen
some of its mineralogical wealth."
"Certainly," replied my uncle; "but I am rather late; or have not
others been here before me?"
"Yes, Herr Liedenbrock; the labours of MM. Olafsen and Povelsen,
pursued by order of the king, the researches of Troïl the scientific
mission of MM. Gaimard and Robert on the French corvette _La
Recherche,_  and lately the observations of scientific men who
came in the _Reine Hortense,_ have added materially to our knowledge
of Iceland. But I assure you there is plenty left."
"Do you think so?" said my uncle, pretending to look very modest, and
trying to hide the curiosity was flashing out of his eyes.
"Oh, yes; how many mountains, glaciers, and volcanoes there are to
study, which are as yet but imperfectly known! Then, without going
any further, that mountain in the horizon. That is Snæfell."
"Ah!" said my uncle, as coolly as he was able, "is that Snæfell?"
"Yes; one of the most curious volcanoes, and the crater of which has
scarcely ever been visited."
"Is it extinct?"
"Oh, yes; more than five hundred years."
"Well," replied my uncle, who was frantically locking his legs
together to keep himself from jumping up in the air, "that is where I
mean to begin my geological studies, there on that Seffel - Fessel -
what do you call it?"
"Snæfell," replied the excellent M. Fridrikssen.
This part of the conversation was in Latin; I had understood every
word of it, and I could hardly conceal my amusement at seeing my
uncle trying to keep down the excitement and satisfaction which were
brimming over in every limb and every feature. He tried hard to put
on an innocent little expression of simplicity; but it looked like a
 _Recherche_ was sent out in 1835 by Admiral Duperré to learn the
fate of the lost expedition of M. de Blosseville in the _Lilloise_
which has never been heard of.
"Yes," said he, "your words decide me. We will try to scale that
Snæfell; perhaps even we may pursue our studies in its crater!"
"I am very sorry," said M. Fridrikssen, "that my engagements will not
allow me to absent myself, or I would have accompanied you myself
with both pleasure and profit."
"Oh, no, no!" replied my uncle with great animation, "we would not
disturb any one for the world, M. Fridrikssen. Still, I thank you
with all my heart: the company of such a talented man would have been
very serviceable, but the duties of your profession -"
I am glad to think that our host, in the innocence of his Icelandic
soul, was blind to the transparent artifices of my uncle.
"I very much approve of your beginning with that volcano, M.
Liedenbrock. You will gather a harvest of interesting observations.
But, tell me, how do you expect to get to the peninsula of Snæfell?"
"By sea, crossing the bay. That's the most direct way."
"No doubt; but it is impossible."
"Because we don't possess a single boat at Rejkiavik."
"You don't mean to say so?"
"You will have to go by land, following the shore. It will be longer,
but more interesting."
"Very well, then; and now I shall have to see about a guide."
"I have one to offer you."
"A safe, intelligent man."
"Yes; an inhabitant of that peninsula He is an eiderdown hunter, and
very clever. He speaks Danish perfectly."
"When can I see him?"
"To-morrow, if you like."
"Why not to-day?"
"Because he won't be here till to-morrow."
"To-morrow, then," added my uncle with a sigh.
This momentous conversation ended in a few minutes with warm
acknowledgments paid by the German to the Icelandic Professor. At
this dinner my uncle had just elicited important facts, amongst
others, the history of Saknussemm, the reason of the mysterious
document, that his host would not accompany him in his expedition,
and that the very next day a guide would be waiting upon him.
A GUIDE FOUND TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
In the evening I took a short walk on the beach and returned at night
to my plank-bed, where I slept soundly all night.
When I awoke I heard my uncle talking at a great rate in the next
room. I immediately dressed and joined him.
He was conversing in the Danish language with a tall man, of robust
build. This fine fellow must have been possessed of great strength.
His eyes, set in a large and ingenuous face, seemed to me very
intelligent; they were of a dreamy sea-blue. Long hair, which would
have been called red even in England, fell in long meshes upon his
broad shoulders. The movements of this native were lithe and supple;
but he made little use of his arms in speaking, like a man who knew
nothing or cared nothing about the language of gestures. His whole
appearance bespoke perfect calmness and self-possession, not
indolence but tranquillity. It was felt at once that he would be
beholden to nobody, that he worked for his own convenience, and that
nothing in this world could astonish or disturb his philosophic
I caught the shades of this Icelander's character by the way in which
he listened to the impassioned flow of words which fell from the
Professor. He stood with arms crossed, perfectly unmoved by my
uncle's incessant gesticulations. A negative was expressed by a slow
movement of the head from left to right, an affirmative by a slight
bend, so slight that his long hair scarcely moved. He carried economy
of motion even to parsimony.
Certainly I should never have dreamt in looking at this man that he
was a hunter; he did not look likely to frighten his game, nor did he
seem as if he would even get near it. But the mystery was explained
when M. Fridrikssen informed me that this tranquil personage was only
a hunter of the eider duck, whose under plumage constitutes the chief
wealth of the island. This is the celebrated eider down, and it
requires no great rapidity of movement to get it.
Early in summer the female, a very pretty bird, goes to build her
nest among the rocks of the fiords with which the coast is fringed.
After building the nest she feathers it with down plucked from her
own breast. Immediately the hunter, or rather the trader, comes and
robs the nest, and the female recommences her work. This goes on as
long as she has any down left. When she has stripped herself bare the
male takes his turn to pluck himself. But as the coarse and hard
plumage of the male has no commercial value, the hunter does not take
the trouble to rob the nest of this; the female therefore lays her
eggs in the spoils of her mate, the young are hatched, and next year
the harvest begins again.
Now, as the eider duck does not select steep cliffs for her nest, but
rather the smooth terraced rocks which slope to the sea, the
Icelandic hunter might exercise his calling without any inconvenient
exertion. He was a farmer who was not obliged either to sow or reap
his harvest, but merely to gather it in.
This grave, phlegmatic, and silent individual was called Hans Bjelke;
and he came recommended by M. Fridrikssen. He was our future guide.
His manners were a singular contrast with my uncle's.
Nevertheless, they soon came to understand each other. Neither looked
at the amount of the payment: the one was ready to accept whatever
was offered; the other was ready to give whatever was demanded. Never
was bargain more readily concluded.
The result of the treaty was, that Hans engaged on his part to
conduct us to the village of Stapi, on the south shore of the Snæfell
peninsula, at the very foot of the volcano. By land this would be
about twenty-two miles, to be done, said my uncle, in two days.
But when he learnt that the Danish mile was 24,000 feet long, he was
obliged to modify his calculations and allow seven or eight days for
Four horses were to be placed at our disposal - two to carry him and
me, two for the baggage. Hams, as was his custom, would go on foot.
He knew all that part of the coast perfectly, and promised to take us
the shortest way.
His engagement was not to terminate with our arrival at Stapi; he was
to continue in my uncle's service for the whole period of his
scientific researches, for the remuneration of three rixdales a week
(about twelve shillings), but it was an express article of the
covenant that his wages should be counted out to him every Saturday
at six o'clock in the evening, which, according to him, was one
indispensable part of the engagement.
The start was fixed for the 16th of June. My uncle wanted to pay the
hunter a portion in advance, but he refused with one word:
"_Efter,_" said he.
"After," said the Professor for my edification.
The treaty concluded, Hans silently withdrew.
"A famous fellow," cried my uncle; "but he little thinks of the
marvellous part he has to play in the future."
"So he is to go with us as far as --"
"As far as the centre of the earth, Axel."
Forty-eight hours were left before our departure; to my great regret
I had to employ them in preparations; for all our ingenuity was
required to pack every article to the best advantage; instruments
here, arms there, tools in this package, provisions in that: four
sets of packages in all.
The instruments were:
1. An Eigel's centigrade thermometer, graduated up to 150 degrees
(302 degrees Fahr.), which seemed to me too much or too little. Too
much if the internal heat was to rise so high, for in this case we
should be baked, not enough to measure the temperature of springs or
any matter in a state of fusion.
2. An aneroid barometer, to indicate extreme pressures of the
atmosphere. An ordinary barometer would not have answered the
purpose, as the pressure would increase during our descent to a point
which the mercurial barometer  would not register.
3. A chronometer, made by Boissonnas, jun., of Geneva, accurately set
to the meridian of Hamburg.
4. Two compasses, viz., a common compass and a dipping needle.
5. A night glass.
6. Two of Ruhmkorff's apparatus, which, by means of an electric
current, supplied a safe and handy portable light 
The arms consisted of two of Purdy's rifles and two brace of pistols.
But what did we want arms for? We had neither savages nor wild beasts
to fear, I supposed. But my uncle seemed to believe in his arsenal as
in his instruments, and more especially in a considerable quantity of
gun cotton, which is unaffected by moisture, and the explosive force
of which exceeds that of gunpowder.
 In M. Verne's book a 'manometer' is the instrument used, of which
very little is known. In a complete list of philosophical instruments
the translator cannot find the name. As he is assured by a first-rate
instrument maker, Chadburn, of Liverpool, that an aneroid can be
constructed to measure any depth, he has thought it best to furnish
the adventurous professor with this more familiar instrument. The
'manometer' is generally known as a pressure gauge. - TRANS.
 Ruhmkorff's apparatus consists of a Bunsen pile worked with
bichromate of potash, which makes no smell; an induction coil carries
the electricity generated by the pile into communication with a
lantern of peculiar construction; in this lantern there is a spiral
glass tube from which the air has been excluded, and in which remains
only a residuum of carbonic acid gas or of nitrogen. When the
apparatus is put in action this gas becomes luminous, producing a
white steady light. The pile and coil are placed in a leathern bag
which the traveller carries over his shoulders; the lantern outside
of the bag throws sufficient light into deep darkness; it enables one
to venture without fear of explosions into the midst of the most
inflammable gases, and is not extinguished even in the deepest
waters. M. Ruhmkorff is a learned and most ingenious man of science;
his great discovery is his induction coil, which produces a powerful
stream of electricity. He obtained in 1864 the quinquennial prize of
50,000 franc reserved by the French government for the most ingenious
application of electricity.
The tools comprised two pickaxes, two spades, a silk ropeladder,
three iron-tipped sticks, a hatchet, a hammer, a dozen wedges and
iron spikes, and a long knotted rope. Now this was a large load, for
the ladder was 300 feet long.
And there were provisions too: this was not a large parcel, but it
was comforting to know that of essence of beef and biscuits there
were six months' consumption. Spirits were the only liquid, and of
water we took none; but we had flasks, and my uncle depended on
springs from which to fill them. Whatever objections I hazarded as to
their quality, temperature, and even absence, remained ineffectual.
To complete the exact inventory of all our travelling accompaniments,
I must not forget a pocket medicine chest, containing blunt scissors,
splints for broken limbs, a piece of tape of unbleached linen,
bandages and compresses, lint, a lancet for bleeding, all dreadful
articles to take with one. Then there was a row of phials containing
dextrine, alcoholic ether, liquid acetate of lead, vinegar, and
ammonia drugs which afforded me no comfort. Finally, all the articles
needful to supply Ruhmkorff's apparatus.
My uncle did not forget- a supply of tobacco, coarse grained powder,
and amadou, nor a leathern belt in which he carried a sufficient
quantity of gold, silver, and paper money. Six pairs of boots and
shoes, made waterproof with a composition of indiarubber and naphtha,
were packed amongst the tools.
"Clothed, shod, and equipped like this," said my uncle, "there is no
telling how far we may go."
The 14th was wholly spent in arranging all our different articles. In
the evening we dined with Baron Tramps; the mayor of Rejkiavik, and
Dr. Hyaltalin, the first medical man of the place, being of the
party. M. Fridrikssen was not there. I learned afterwards that he and
the Governor disagreed upon some question of administration, and did
not speak to each other. I therefore knew not a single word of all
that was said at this semi-official dinner; but I could not help
noticing that my uncle talked the whole time.
On the 15th our preparations were all made. Our host gave the
Professor very great pleasure by presenting him with a map of Iceland
far more complete than that of Hendersen. It was the map of M. Olaf
Nikolas Olsen, in the proportion of 1 to 480,000 of the actual size
of the island, and published by the Icelandic Literary Society. It
was a precious document for a mineralogist.
Our last evening was spent in intimate conversation with M.
Fridrikssen, with whom I felt the liveliest sympathy; then, after the
talk, succeeded, for me, at any rate, a disturbed and restless night.
At five in the morning I was awoke by the neighing and pawing of four
horses under my window. I dressed hastily and came down into the
street. Hans was finishing our packing, almost as it were without
moving a limb; and yet he did his work cleverly. My uncle made more
noise than execution, and the guide seemed to pay very little
attention to his energetic directions.
At six o'clock our preparations were over. M. Fridrikssen shook hands
with us. My uncle thanked him heartily for his extreme kindness. I
constructed a few fine Latin sentences to express my cordial
farewell. Then we bestrode our steeds and with his last adieu M.
Fridrikssen treated me to a line of Virgil eminently applicable to
such uncertain wanderers as we were likely to be:
"Et quacumque viam dedent fortuna sequamur."
"Therever fortune clears a way,
Thither our ready footsteps stray."
A BARREN LAND
We had started under a sky overcast but calm. There was no fear of
heat, none of disastrous rain. It was just the weather for tourists.
The pleasure of riding on horseback over an unknown country made me
easy to be pleased at our first start. I threw myself wholly into the
pleasure of the trip, and enjoyed the feeling of freedom and
satisfied desire. I was beginning to take a real share in the
"Besides," I said to myself, "where's the risk? Here we are
travelling all through a most interesting country! We are about to
climb a very remarkable mountain; at the worst we are going to
scramble down an extinct crater. It is evident that Saknussemm did
nothing more than this. As for a passage leading to the centre of the
globe, it is mere rubbish! perfectly impossible! Very well, then; let
us get all the good we can out of this expedition, and don't let us
haggle about the chances."
This reasoning having settled my mind, we got out of Rejkiavik.
Hans moved steadily on, keeping ahead of us at an even, smooth, and
rapid pace. The baggage horses followed him without giving any
trouble. Then came my uncle and myself, looking not so very
ill-mounted on our small but hardy animals.
Iceland is one of the largest islands in Europe. Its surface is
14,000 square miles, and it contains but 16,000 inhabitants.
Geographers have divided it into four quarters, and we were crossing
diagonally the south-west quarter, called the 'Sudvester Fjordungr.'
On leaving Rejkiavik Hans took us by the seashore. We passed lean
pastures which were trying very hard, but in vain, to look green;
yellow came out best. The rugged peaks of the trachyte rocks
presented faint outlines on the eastern horizon; at times a few
patches of snow, concentrating the vague light, glittered upon the
slopes of the distant mountains; certain peaks, boldly uprising,
passed through the grey clouds, and reappeared above the moving
mists, like breakers emerging in the heavens.
Often these chains of barren rocks made a dip towards the sea, and
encroached upon the scanty pasturage: but there was always enough
room to pass. Besides, our horses instinctively chose the easiest
places without ever slackening their pace. My uncle was refused even
the satisfaction of stirring up his beast with whip or voice. He had
no excuse for being impatient. I could not help smiling to see so
tall a man on so small a pony, and as his long legs nearly touched
the ground he looked like a six-legged centaur.
"Good horse! good horse!" he kept saying. "You will see, Axel, that
there is no more sagacious animal than the Icelandic horse. He is
stopped by neither snow, nor storm, nor impassable roads, nor rocks,
glaciers, or anything. He is courageous, sober, and surefooted. He
never makes a false step, never shies. If there is a river or fiord
to cross (and we shall meet with many) you will see him plunge in at
once, just as if he were amphibious, and gain the opposite bank. But
we must not hurry him; we must let him have his way, and we shall get
on at the rate of thirty miles a day."
"We may; but how about our guide?"
"Oh, never mind him. People like him get over the ground without a
thought. There is so little action in this man that he will never get
tired; and besides, if he wants it, he shall have my horse. I shall
get cramped if I don't have- a little action. The arms are all right,
but the legs want exercise."
We were advancing at a rapid pace. The country was already almost a
desert. Here and there was a lonely farm, called a boër built either
of wood, or of sods, or of pieces of lava, looking like a poor beggar
by the wayside. These ruinous huts seemed to solicit charity from
passers-by; and on very small provocation we should have given alms
for the relief of the poor inmates. In this country there were no
roads and paths, and the poor vegetation, however slow, would soon
efface the rare travellers' footsteps.
Yet this part of the province, at a very small distance from the
capital, is reckoned among the inhabited and cultivated portions of
Iceland. What, then, must other tracts be, more desert than this
desert? In the first half mile we had not seen one farmer standing
before his cabin door, nor one shepherd tending a flock less wild
than himself, nothing but a few cows and sheep left to themselves.
What then would be those convulsed regions upon which we were
advancing, regions subject to the dire phenomena of eruptions, the
offspring of volcanic explosions and subterranean convulsions?
We were to know them before long, but on consulting Olsen's map, I
saw that they would be avoided by winding along the seashore. In
fact, the great plutonic action is confined to the central portion of
the island; there, rocks of the trappean and volcanic class,
including trachyte, basalt, and tuffs and agglomerates associated
with streams of lava, have made this a land of supernatural horrors.
I had no idea of the spectacle which was awaiting us in the peninsula
of Snæfell, where these ruins of a fiery nature have formed a
In two hours from Rejkiavik we arrived at the burgh of Gufunes,
called Aolkirkja, or principal church. There was nothing remarkable
here but a few houses, scarcely enough for a German hamlet.
Hans stopped here half an hour. He shared with us our frugal
breakfast; answering my uncle's questions about the road and our
resting place that night with merely yes or no, except when he said
I consulted the map to see where Gardär was. I saw there was a small
town of that name on the banks of the Hvalfiord, four miles from
Rejkiavik. I showed it to my uncle.
"Four miles only!" he exclaimed; "four miles out of twenty-eight.
What a nice little walk!"
He was about to make an observation to the guide, who without
answering resumed his place at the head, and went on his way.
Three hours later, still treading on the colourless grass of the
pasture land, we had to work round the Kolla fiord, a longer way but
an easier one than across that inlet. We soon entered into a
'pingstar' or parish called Ejulberg, from whose steeple twelve
o'clock would have struck, if Icelandic churches were rich enough to
possess clocks. But they are like the parishioners who have no
watches and do without.
There our horses were baited; then taking the narrow path to left
between a chain of hills and the sea, they carried us to our next
stage, the aolkirkja of Brantär and one mile farther on, to Saurboër
'Annexia,' a chapel of ease built on the south shore of the Hvalfiord.
It was now four o'clock, and we had gone four Icelandic miles, or
twenty-four English miles.
In that place the fiord was at least three English miles wide; the
waves rolled with a rushing din upon the sharp-pointed rocks; this
inlet was confined between walls of rock, precipices crowned by sharp
peaks 2,000 feet high, and remarkable for the brown strata which
separated the beds of reddish tuff. However much I might respect the
intelligence of our quadrupeds, I hardly cared to put it to the test
by trusting myself to it on horseback across an arm of the sea.
If they are as intelligent as they are said to be, I thought, they
won't try it. In any case, I will tax my intelligence to direct
But my uncle would not wait. He spurred on to the edge. His steed
lowered his head to examine the nearest waves and stopped. My uncle,
who had an instinct of his own, too, applied pressure, and was again
refused by the animal significantly shaking his head. Then followed
strong language, and the whip; but the brute answered these arguments
with kicks and endeavours to throw his rider. At last the clever
little pony, with a bend of his knees, started from under the
Professor's legs, and left him standing upon two boulders on the
shore just like the colossus of Rhodes.
"Confounded brute!" cried the unhorsed horseman, suddenly degraded
into a pedestrian, just as ashamed as a cavalry officer degraded to a
"_Färja,_" said the guide, touching his shoulder.
"What! a boat?"
"_Der,_" replied Hans, pointing to one.
"Yes," I cried; "there is a boat."
"Why did not you say so then? Well, let us go on."
"_Tidvatten,_" said the guide.
"What is he saying?"
"He says tide," said my uncle, translating the Danish word.
"No doubt we must wait for the tide."
"_Förbida,_" said my uncle.
"_Ja,_" replied Hans.
My uncle stamped with his foot, while the horses went on to the boat.
I perfectly understood the necessity of abiding a particular moment
of the tide to undertake the crossing of the fiord, when, the sea
having reached its greatest height, it should be slack water. Then
the ebb and flow have no sensible effect, and the boat does not risk
being carried either to the bottom or out to sea.
That favourable moment arrived only with six o'clock; when my uncle,
myself, the guide, two other passengers and the four horses, trusted
ourselves to a somewhat fragile raft. Accustomed as I was to the
swift and sure steamers on the Elbe, I found the oars of the rowers
rather a slow means of propulsion. It took us more than an hour to
cross the fiord; but the passage was effected without any mishap.
In another half hour we had reached the aolkirkja of Gardär
HOSPITALITY UNDER THE ARCTIC CIRCLE
It ought to have been night-time, but under the 65th parallel there
was nothing surprising in the nocturnal polar light. In Iceland
during the months of June and July the sun does not set.
But the temperature was much lower. I was cold and more hungry than
cold. Welcome was the sight of the boër which was hospitably opened
to receive us.
It was a peasant's house, but in point of hospitality it was equal to
a king's. On our arrival the master came with outstretched hands, and
without more ceremony he beckoned us to follow him.
To accompany him down the long, narrow, dark passage, would have been
impossible. Therefore, we followed, as he bid us. The building was
constructed of roughly squared timbers, with rooms on both sides,
four in number, all opening out into the one passage: these were the
kitchen, the weaving shop, the badstofa, or family sleeping-room, and
the visitors' room, which was the best of all. My uncle, whose height
had not been thought of in building the house, of course hit his head
several times against the beams that projected from the ceilings.
We were introduced into our apartment, a large room with a floor of
earth stamped hard down, and lighted by a window, the panes of which
were formed of sheep's bladder, not admitting too much light. The
sleeping accommodation consisted of dry litter, thrown into two
wooden frames painted red, and ornamented with Icelandic sentences. I
was hardly expecting so much comfort; the only discomfort proceeded
from the strong odour of dried fish, hung meat, and sour milk, of
which my nose made bitter complaints.
When we had laid aside our travelling wraps the voice of the host was
heard inviting us to the kitchen, the only room where a fire was
lighted even in the severest cold.
My uncle lost no time in obeying the friendly call, nor was I slack
The kitchen chimney was constructed on the ancient pattern; in the
middle of the room was a stone for a hearth, over it in the roof a
hole to let the smoke escape. The kitchen was also a dining-room.
At our entrance the host, as if he had never seen us, greeted us with
the word "_Sællvertu,_" which means "be happy," and came and kissed
us on the cheek.
After him his wife pronounced the same words, accompanied with the
same ceremonial; then the two placing their hands upon their hearts,
inclined profoundly before us.
I hasten to inform the reader that this Icelandic lady was the mother
of nineteen children, all, big and little, swarming in the midst of
the dense wreaths of smoke with which the fire on the hearth filled
the chamber. Every moment I noticed a fair-haired and rather
melancholy face peeping out of the rolling volumes of smoke - they
were a perfect cluster of unwashed angels.
My uncle and I treated this little tribe with kindness; and in a very
short time we each had three or four of these brats on our shoulders,
as many on our laps, and the rest between our knees. Those who could
speak kept repeating "_Sællvertu,_" in every conceivable tone; those
that could not speak made up for that want by shrill cries.
This concert was brought to a close by the announcement of dinner. At
that moment our hunter returned, who had been seeing his horses
provided for; that is to say, he had economically let them loose in
the fields, where the poor beasts had to content themselves with the
scanty moss they could pull off the rocks and a few meagre sea weeds,
and the next day they would not fail to come of themselves and resume
the labours of the previous day.
"_Sællvertu,_" said Hans.
Then calmly, automatically, and dispassionately he kissed the host,
the hostess, and their nineteen children.
This ceremony over, we sat at table, twenty-four in number, and
therefore one upon another. The luckiest had only two urchins upon
But silence reigned in all this little world at the arrival of the
soup, and the national taciturnity resumed its empire even over the
children. The host served out to us a soup made of lichen and by no
means unpleasant, then an immense piece of dried fish floating in
butter rancid with twenty years' keeping, and, therefore, according
to Icelandic gastronomy, much preferable to fresh butter. Along with
this, we had 'skye,' a sort of clotted milk, with biscuits, and a
liquid prepared from juniper berries; for beverage we had a thin milk
mixed with water, called in this country 'blanda.' It is not for me
to decide whether this diet is wholesome or not; all I can say is,
that I was desperately hungry, and that at dessert I swallowed to the
very last gulp of a thick broth made from buckwheat.
As soon as the meal was over the children disappeared, and their
elders gathered round the peat fire, which also burnt such
miscellaneous fuel as briars, cow-dung, and fishbones. After this
little pinch of warmth the different groups retired to their
respective rooms. Our hostess hospitably offered us her assistance in
undressing, according to Icelandic usage; but on our gracefully
declining, she insisted no longer, and I was able at last to curl
myself up in my mossy bed.
At five next morning we bade our host farewell, my uncle with
difficulty persuading him to accept a proper remuneration; and Hans
signalled the start.
At a hundred yards from Gardär the soil began to change its aspect;
it became boggy and less favourable to progress. On our right the
chain of mountains was indefinitely prolonged like an immense system
of natural fortifications, of which we were following the
counter-scarp or lesser steep; often we were met by streams, which we
had to ford with great care, not to wet our packages.
The desert became wider and more hideous; yet from time to time we
seemed to descry a human figure that fled at our approach, sometimes
a sharp turn would bring us suddenly within a short distance of one
of these spectres, and I was filled with loathing at the sight of a
huge deformed head, the skin shining and hairless, and repulsive
sores visible through the gaps in the poor creature's wretched rags.
The unhappy being forbore to approach us and offer his misshapen
hand. He fled away, but not before Hans had saluted him with the
"_Spetelsk,_" said he.
"A leper!" my uncle repeated.
This word produced a repulsive effect. The horrible disease of
leprosy is too common in Iceland; it is not contagious, but
hereditary, and lepers are forbidden to marry.
These apparitions were not cheerful, and did not throw any charm over
the less and less attractive landscapes. The last tufts of grass had
disappeared from beneath our feet. Not a tree was to be seen, unless
we except a few dwarf birches as low as brushwood. Not an animal but
a few wandering ponies that their owners would not feed. Sometimes we
could see a hawk balancing himself on his wings under the grey cloud,
and then darting away south with rapid flight. I felt melancholy
under this savage aspect of nature, and my thoughts went away to the
cheerful scenes I had left in the far south.
We had to cross a few narrow fiords, and at last quite a wide gulf;
the tide, then high, allowed us to pass over without delay, and to
reach the hamlet of Alftanes, one mile beyond.
That evening, after having forded two rivers full of trout and pike,
called Alfa and Heta, we were obliged to spend the night in a
deserted building worthy to be haunted by all the elfins of
Scandinavia. The ice king certainly held court here, and gave us all
night long samples of what he could do.
No particular event marked the next day. Bogs, dead levels,
melancholy desert tracks, wherever we travelled. By nightfall we had
accomplished half our journey, and we lay at Krösolbt.
On the 19th of June, for about a mile, that is an Icelandic mile, we
walked upon hardened lava; this ground is called in the country
'hraun'; the writhen surface presented the appearance of distorted,
twisted cables, sometimes stretched in length, sometimes contorted
together; an immense torrent, once liquid, now solid, ran from the
nearest mountains, now extinct volcanoes, but the ruins around
revealed the violence of the past eruptions. Yet here and there were
a few jets of steam from hot springs.
We had no time to watch these phenomena; we had to proceed on our
way. Soon at the foot of the mountains the boggy land reappeared,
intersected by little lakes. Our route now lay westward; we had
turned the great bay of Faxa, and the twin peaks of Snæfell rose
white into the cloudy sky at the distance of at least five miles.
The horses did their duty well, no difficulties stopped them in their
steady career. I was getting tired; but my uncle was as firm and
straight as he was at our first start. I could not help admiring his
persistency, as well as the hunter's, who treated our expedition like
a mere promenade.
June 20. At six p.m. we reached Büdir, a village on the sea shore;
and the guide there claiming his due, my uncle settled with him. It
was Hans' own family, that is, his uncles and cousins, who gave us
hospitality; we were kindly received, and without taxing too much the
goodness of these folks, I would willingly have tarried here to
recruit after my fatigues. But my uncle, who wanted no recruiting,
would not hear of it, and the next morning we had to bestride our
The soil told of the neighbourhood of the mountain, whose granite
foundations rose from the earth like the knotted roots of some huge
oak. We were rounding the immense base of the volcano. The Professor
hardly took his eyes off it. He tossed up his arms and seemed to defy
it, and to declare, "There stands the giant that I shall conquer."
After about four hours' walking the horses stopped of their own
accord at the door of the priest's house at Stapi.
BUT ARCTICS CAN BE INHOSPITABLE, TOO
Stapi is a village consisting of about thirty huts, built of lava, at
the south side of the base of the volcano. It extends along the inner
edge of a small fiord, inclosed between basaltic walls of the
Basalt is a brownish rock of igneous origin. It assumes regular
forms, the arrangement of which is often very surprising. Here nature
had done her work geometrically, with square and compass and plummet.
Everywhere else her art consists alone in throwing down huge masses
together in disorder. You see cones imperfectly formed, irregular
pyramids, with a fantastic disarrangement of lines; but here, as if
to exhibit an example of regularity, though in advance of the very
earliest architects, she has created a severely simple order of
architecture, never surpassed either by the splendours of Babylon or
the wonders of Greece.
I had heard of the Giant's Causeway in Ireland, and Fingal's Cave in
Staffa, one of the Hebrides; but I had never yet seen a basaltic
At Stapi I beheld this phenomenon in all its beauty.
The wall that confined the fiord, like all the coast of the
peninsula, was composed of a series of vertical columns thirty feet
high. These straight shafts, of fair proportions, supported an
architrave of horizontal slabs, the overhanging portion of which
formed a semi-arch over the sea. At. intervals, under this natural
shelter, there spread out vaulted entrances in beautiful curves, into
which the waves came dashing with foam and spray. A few shafts of
basalt, torn from their hold by the fury of tempests, lay along the
soil like remains of an ancient temple, in ruins for ever fresh, and
over which centuries passed without leaving a trace of age upon them.
This was our last stage upon the earth. Hans had exhibited great
intelligence, and it gave me some little comfort to think then that
he was not going to leave us.
On arriving at the door of the rector's house, which was not
different from the others, I saw a man shoeing a horse, hammer in
hand, and with a leathern apron on.
"_Sællvertu,_" said the hunter.
"_God dag,_" said the blacksmith in good Danish.
"_Kyrkoherde,_" said Hans, turning round to my uncle.
"The rector," repeated the Professor. "It seems, Axel, that this good
man is the rector."
Our guide in the meanwhile was making the 'kyrkoherde' aware of the
position of things; when the latter, suspending his labours for a
moment, uttered a sound no doubt understood between horses and
farriers, and immediately a tall and ugly hag appeared from the hut.
She must have been six feet at the least. I was in great alarm lest
she should treat me to the Icelandic kiss; but there was no occasion
to fear, nor did she do the honours at all too gracefully.
The visitors' room seemed to me the worst in the whole cabin. It was
close, dirty, and evil smelling. But we had to be content. The rector
did not to go in for antique hospitality. Very far from it. Before
the day was over I saw that we had to do with a blacksmith, a
fisherman, a hunter, a joiner, but not at all with a minister of the
Gospel. To be sure, it was a week-day; perhaps on a Sunday he made
I don't mean to say anything against these poor priests, who after
all are very wretched. They receive from the Danish Government a
ridiculously small pittance, and they get from the parish the fourth
part of the tithe, which does not come to sixty marks a year (about
£4). Hence the necessity to work for their livelihood; but after
fishing, hunting, and shoeing horses for any length of time, one soon
gets into the ways and manners of fishermen, hunters, and farriers,
and other rather rude and uncultivated people; and that evening I
found out that temperance was not among the virtues that
distinguished my host.
My uncle soon discovered what sort of a man he had to do with;
instead of a good and learned man he found a rude and coarse peasant.
He therefore resolved to commence the grand expedition at once, and
to leave this inhospitable parsonage. He cared nothing about fatigue,
and resolved to spend some days upon the mountain.
The preparations for our departure were therefore made the very day
after our arrival at Stapi. Hans hired the services of three
Icelanders to do the duty of the horses in the transport of the
burdens; but as soon as we had arrived at the crater these natives
were to turn back and leave us to our own devices. This was to be
My uncle now took the opportunity to explain to Hans that it was his
intention to explore the interior of the volcano to its farthest
Hans merely nodded. There or elsewhere, down in the bowels of the
earth, or anywhere on the surface, all was alike to him. For my own
part the incidents of the journey had hitherto kept me amused, and
made me forgetful of coming evils; but now my fears again were
beginning to get the better of me. But what could I do? The place to
resist the Professor would have been Hamburg, not the foot of Snæfell.
One thought, above all others, harassed and alarmed me; it was one
calculated to shake firmer nerves than mine.
Now, thought I, here we are, about to climb Snæfell. Very good. We
will explore the crater. Very good, too, others have done as much
without dying for it. But that is not all. If there is a way to
penetrate into the very bowels of the island, if that ill-advised
Saknussemm has told a true tale, we shall lose our way amidst the
deep subterranean passages of this volcano. Now, there is no proof
that Snæfell is extinct. Who can assure us that an eruption is not
brewing at this very moment? Does it follow that because the monster
has slept since 1229 he must therefore never awake again? And if he
wakes up presently, where shall we be?
It was worth while debating this question, and I did debate it. I
could not sleep for dreaming about eruptions. Now, the part of
ejected scoriae and ashes seemed to my mind a very rough one to act.
So, at last, when I could hold out no longer, I resolved to lay the
case before my uncle, as prudently and as cautiously as possible,
just under the form of an almost impossible hypothesis.
I went to him. I communicated my fears to him, and drew back a step
to give him room for the explosion which I knew must follow. But I
"I was thinking of that," he replied with great simplicity.
What could those words mean? - Was he actually going to listen to
reason? Was he contemplating the abandonment of his plans? This was
too good to be true.
After a few moments' silence, during which I dared not question him,
"I was thinking of that. Ever since we arrived at Stapi I have been
occupied with the important question you have just opened, for we
must not be guilty of imprudence."
"No, indeed!" I replied with forcible emphasis.
"For six hundred years Snæfell has been dumb; but he may speak again.
Now, eruptions are always preceded by certain well-known phenomena. I
have therefore examined the natives, I have studied external
appearances, and I can assure you, Axel, that there will be no
At this positive affirmation I stood amazed and speechless.
"You don't doubt my word?" said my uncle. "Well, follow me."
I obeyed like an automaton. Coming out from the priest's house, the
Professor took a straight road, which, through an opening in the
basaltic wall, led away from the sea. We were soon in the open
country, if one may give that name to a vast extent of mounds of
volcanic products. This tract seemed crushed under a rain of enormous
ejected rocks of trap, basalt, granite, and all kinds of igneous
Here and there I could see puffs and jets of steam curling up into
the air, called in Icelandic 'reykir,' issuing from thermal springs,
and indicating by their motion the volcanic energy underneath. This
seemed to justify my fears: But I fell from the height of my new-born
hopes when my uncle said:
"You see all these volumes of steam, Axel; well, they demonstrate
that we have nothing to fear from the fury of a volcanic eruption."
"Am I to believe that?" I cried.
"Understand this clearly," added the Professor. "At the approach of
an eruption these jets would redouble their activity, but disappear
altogether during the period of the eruption. For the elastic fluids,
being no longer under pressure, go off by way of the crater instead
of escaping by their usual passages through the fissures in the soil.
Therefore, if these vapours remain in their usual condition, if they
display no augmentation of force, and if you add to this the
observation that the wind and rain are not ceasing and being replaced
by a still and heavy atmosphere, then you may affirm that no eruption
'No more; that is sufficient. When science has uttered her voice, let
babblers hold their peace.'
I returned to the parsonage, very crestfallen. My uncle had beaten me
with the weapons of science. Still I had one hope left, and this was,
that when we had reached the bottom of the crater it would be
impossible, for want of a passage, to go deeper, in spite of all the
Saknussemm's in Iceland.
I spent that whole night in one constant nightmare; in the heart of a
volcano, and from the deepest depths of the earth I saw myself tossed
up amongst the interplanetary spaces under the form of an eruptive
The next day, June 23, Hans was awaiting us with his companions
carrying provisions, tools, and instruments; two iron pointed sticks,
two rifles, and two shot belts were for my uncle and myself. Hans, as
a cautious man, had added to our luggage a leathern bottle full of
water, which, with that in our flasks, would ensure us a supply of
water for eight days.
It was nine in the morning. The priest and his tall Megæra were
awaiting us at the door. We supposed they were standing there to bid
us a kind farewell. But the farewell was put in the unexpected form
of a heavy bill, in which everything was charged, even to the very
air we breathed in the pastoral house, infected as it was. This
worthy couple were fleecing us just as a Swiss innkeeper might have
done, and estimated their imperfect hospitality at the highest price.
My uncle paid without a remark: a man who is starting for the centre
of the earth need not be particular about a few rix dollars.
This point being settled, Hans gave the signal, and we soon left
Stapi behind us.
SNÆFELL AT LAST
Snæfell is 5,000 feet high. Its double cone forms the limit of a
trachytic belt which stands out distinctly in the mountain system of
the island. From our starting point we could see the two peaks boldly
projected against the dark grey sky; I could see an enormous cap of
snow coming low down upon the giant's brow.
We walked in single file, headed by the hunter, who ascended by
narrow tracks, where two could not have gone abreast. There was
therefore no room for conversation.
After we had passed the basaltic wall of the fiord of Stapi we passed
over a vegetable fibrous peat bog, left from the ancient vegetation
of this peninsula. The vast quantity of this unworked fuel would be
sufficient to warm the whole population of Iceland for a century;
this vast turbary measured in certain ravines had in many places a
depth of seventy feet, and presented layers of carbonized remains of
vegetation alternating with thinner layers of tufaceous pumice.
As a true nephew of the Professor Liedenbrock, and in spite of my
dismal prospects, I could not help observing with interest the
mineralogical curiosities which lay about me as in a vast museum, and
I constructed for myself a complete geological account of Iceland.
This most curious island has evidently been projected from the bottom
of the sea at a comparatively recent date. Possibly, it may still be
subject to gradual elevation. If this is the case, its origin may
well be attributed to subterranean fires. Therefore, in this case,
the theory of Sir Humphry Davy, Saknussemm's document, and my uncle's
theories would all go off in smoke. This hypothesis led me to examine
with more attention the appearance of the surface, and I soon arrived
at a conclusion as to the nature of the forces which presided at its
Iceland, which is entirely devoid of alluvial soil, is wholly
composed of volcanic tufa, that is to say, an agglomeration of porous
rocks and stones. Before the volcanoes broke out it consisted of trap
rocks slowly upraised to the level of the sea by the action of
central forces. The internal fires had not yet forced their way
But at a later period a wide chasm formed diagonally from south-west
to north-east, through which was gradually forced out the trachyte
which was to form a mountain chain. No violence accompanied this
change; the matter thrown out was in vast quantities, and the liquid
material oozing out from the abysses of the earth slowly spread in
extensive plains or in hillocky masses. To this period belong the
felspar, syenites, and porphyries.
But with the help of this outflow the thickness of the crust of the
island increased materially, and therefore also its powers of
resistance. It may easily be conceived what vast quantities of
elastic gases, what masses of molten matter accumulated beneath its
solid surface whilst no exit was practicable after the cooling of the
trachytic crust. Therefore a time would come when the elastic and
explosive forces of the imprisoned gases would upheave this ponderous
cover and drive out for themselves openings through tall chimneys.
Hence then the volcano would distend and lift up the crust, and then
burst through a crater suddenly formed at the summit or thinnest part
of the volcano.
To the eruption succeeded other volcanic phenomena. Through the
outlets now made first escaped the ejected basalt of which the plain
we had just left presented such marvellous specimens. We were moving
over grey rocks of dense and massive formation, which in cooling had
formed into hexagonal prisms. Everywhere around us we saw truncated
cones, formerly so many fiery mouths.
After the exhaustion of the basalt, the volcano, the power of which
grew by the extinction of the lesser craters, supplied an egress to
lava, ashes, and scoriae, of which I could see lengthened screes
streaming down the sides of the mountain like flowing hair.
Such was the succession of phenomena which produced Iceland, all
arising from the action of internal fire; and to suppose that the
mass within did not still exist in a state of liquid incandescence
was absurd; and nothing could surpass the absurdity of fancying that
it was possible to reach the earth's centre.
So I felt a little comforted as we advanced to the assault of Snæfell.
The way was growing more and more arduous, the ascent steeper and
steeper; the loose fragments of rock trembled beneath us, and the
utmost care was needed to avoid dangerous falls.
Hans went on as quietly as if he were on level ground; sometimes he
disappeared altogether behind the huge blocks, then a shrill whistle
would direct us on our way to him. Sometimes he would halt, pick up a
few bits of stone, build them up into a recognisable form, and thus
made landmarks to guide us in our way back. A very wise precaution in
itself, but, as things turned out, quite useless.
Three hours' fatiguing march had only brought us to the base of the
mountain. There Hans bid us come to a halt, and a hasty breakfast was
served out. My uncle swallowed two mouthfuls at a time to get on
faster. But, whether he liked it or not, this was a rest as well as a
breakfast hour and he had to wait till it pleased our guide to move
on, which came to pass in an hour. The three Icelanders, just as
taciturn as their comrade the hunted, never spoke, and ate their
breakfasts in silence.
We were now beginning to scale the steep sides of Snæfell. Its snowy
summit, by an optical illusion not unfrequent in mountains, seemed
close to us, and yet how many weary hours it took to reach it! The
stones, adhering by no soil or fibrous roots of vegetation, rolled
away from under our feet, and rushed down the precipice below with
the swiftness of an avalanche.
At some places the flanks of the mountain formed an angle with the
horizon of at least 36 degrees; it was impossible to climb them, and
these stony cliffs had to be tacked round, not without great
difficulty. Then we helped each other with our sticks.
I must admit that my uncle kept as close to me as he could; he never
lost sight of me, and in many straits his arm furnished me with a
powerful support. He himself seemed to possess an instinct for
equilibrium, for he never stumbled. The Icelanders, though burdened
with our loads, climbed with the agility of mountaineers.
To judge by the distant appearance of the summit of Snæfell, it would
have seemed too steep to ascend on our side. Fortunately, after an
hour of fatigue and athletic exercises, in the midst of the vast
surface of snow presented by the hollow between the two peaks, a kind
of staircase appeared unexpectedly which greatly facilitated our
ascent. It was formed by one of those torrents of stones flung up by
the eruptions, called 'sting' by the Icelanders. If this torrent had
not been arrested in its fall by the formation of the sides of the
mountain, it would have gone on to the sea and formed more islands.
Such as it was, it did us good service. The steepness increased, but
these stone steps allowed us to rise with facility, and even with
such rapidity that, having rested for a moment while my companions
continued their ascent, I perceived them already reduced by distance
to microscopic dimensions.
At seven we had ascended the two thousand steps of this grand
staircase, and we had attained a bulge in the mountain, a kind of bed
on which rested the cone proper of the crater.
Three thousand two hundred feet below us stretched the sea. We had
passed the limit of perpetual snow, which, on account of the moisture
of the climate, is at a greater elevation in Iceland than the high
latitude would give reason to suppose. The cold was excessively keen.
The wind was blowing violently. I was exhausted. The Professor saw
that my limbs were refusing to perform their office, and in spite of
his impatience he decided on stopping. He therefore spoke to the
hunter, who shook his head, saying:
"It seems we must go higher," said my uncle.
Then he asked Hans for his reason.
"_Mistour,_" replied the guide.
"_Ja Mistour,_" said one of the Icelanders in a tone of alarm.
"What does that word mean?" I asked uneasily.
"Look!" said my uncle.
I looked down upon the plain. An immense column of pulverized pumice,
sand and dust was rising with a whirling circular motion like a
waterspout; the wind was lashing it on to that side of Snæfell where
we were holding on; this dense veil, hung across the sun, threw a
deep shadow over the mountain. If that huge revolving pillar sloped
down, it would involve us in its whirling eddies. This phenomenon,
which is not unfrequent when the wind blows from the glaciers, is
called in Icelandic 'mistour.'
"_Hastigt! hastigt!_" cried our guide.
Without knowing Danish I understood at once that we must follow Hans
at the top of our speed. He began to circle round the cone of the
crater, but in a diagonal direction so as to facilitate our progress.
Presently the dust storm fell upon the mountain, which quivered under
the shock; the loose stones, caught with the irresistible blasts of
wind, flew about in a perfect hail as in an eruption. Happily we were
on the opposite side, and sheltered from all harm. But for the
precaution of our guide, our mangled bodies, torn and pounded into
fragments, would have been carried afar like the ruins hurled along
by some unknown meteor.
Yet Hans did not think it prudent to spend the night upon the sides
of the cone. We continued our zigzag climb. The fifteen hundred
remaining feet took us five hours to clear; the circuitous route, the
diagonal and the counter marches, must have measured at least three
leagues. I could stand it no longer. I was yielding to the effects of
hunger and cold. The rarefied air scarcely gave play to the action of
At last, at eleven in the sunlight night, the summit of Snæfell was
reached, and before going in for shelter into the crater I had time
to observe the midnight sun, at his lowest point, gilding with his
pale rays the island that slept at my feet.
BOLDLY DOWN THE CRATER
Supper was rapidly devoured, and the little company housed themselves
as best they could. The bed was hard, the shelter not very
substantial, and our position an anxious one, at five thousand feet
above the sea level. Yet I slept particularly well; it was one of the
best nights I had ever had, and I did not even dream.
Next morning we awoke half frozen by the sharp keen air, but with the
light of a splendid sun. I rose from my granite bed and went out to
enjoy the magnificent spectacle that lay unrolled before me.
I stood on the very summit of the southernmost of Snæfell's peaks.
The range of the eye extended over the whole island. By an optical
law which obtains at all great heights, the shores seemed raised and
the centre depressed. It seemed as if one of Helbesmer's raised maps
lay at my feet. I could see deep valleys intersecting each other in
every direction, precipices like low walls, lakes reduced to ponds,
rivers abbreviated into streams. On my right were numberless glaciers
and innumerable peaks, some plumed with feathery clouds of smoke. The
undulating surface of these endless mountains, crested with sheets of
snow, reminded one of a stormy sea. If I looked westward, there the
ocean lay spread out in all its magnificence, like a mere
continuation of those flock-like summits. The eye could hardly tell
where the snowy ridges ended and the foaming waves began.
I was thus steeped in the marvellous ecstasy which all high summits
develop in the mind; and now without giddiness, for I was beginning
to be accustomed to these sublime aspects of nature. My dazzled eyes
were bathed in the bright flood of the solar rays. I was forgetting
where and who I was, to live the life of elves and sylphs, the
fanciful creation of Scandinavian superstitions. I felt intoxicated
with the sublime pleasure of lofty elevations without thinking of the
profound abysses into which I was shortly to be plunged. But I was
brought back to the realities of things by the arrival of Hans and
the Professor, who joined me on the summit.
My uncle pointed out to me in the far west a light steam or mist, a
semblance of land, which bounded the distant horizon of waters.
"Greenland!" said he.
"Greenland?" I cried.
"Yes; we are only thirty-five leagues from it; and during thaws the
white bears, borne by the ice fields from the north, are carried even
into Iceland. But never mind that. Here we are at the top of Snæfell
and here are two peaks, one north and one south. Hans will tell us
the name of that on which we are now standing."
The question being put, Hans replied:
My uncle shot a triumphant glance at me.
"Now for the crater!" he cried.
The crater of Snæfell resembled an inverted cone, the openingof which
might be half a league in diameter. Its depth appeared to be about
two thousand feet. Imagine the aspect of such a reservoir, brim full
and running over with liquid fire amid the rolling thunder. The
bottom of the funnel was about 250 feet in circuit, so that the
gentle slope allowed its lower brim to be reached without much
difficulty. Involuntarily I compared the whole crater to an enormous
erected mortar, and the comparison put me in a terrible fright.
"What madness," I thought, "to go down into a mortar, perhaps a
loaded mortar, to be shot up into the air at a moment's notice!"
But I did not try to back out of it. Hans with perfect coolness
resumed the lead, and I followed him without a word.
In order to facilitate the descent, Hans wound his way down the cone
by a spiral path. Our route lay amidst eruptive rocks, some of which,
shaken out of their loosened beds, rushed bounding down the abyss,
and in their fall awoke echoes remarkable for their loud and
In certain parts of the cone there were glaciers. Here Hans advanced
only with extreme precaution, sounding his way with his iron-pointed
pole, to discover any crevasses in it. At particularly dubious
passages we were obliged to connect ourselves with each other by a
long cord, in order that any man who missed his footing might be held
up by his companions. This solid formation was prudent, but did not
remove all danger.
Yet, notwithstanding the difficulties of the descent, down steeps
unknown to the guide, the journey was accomplished without accidents,
except the loss of a coil of rope, which escaped from the hands of an
Icelander, and took the shortest way to the bottom of the abyss.
At mid-day we arrived. I raised my head and saw straight above me the
upper aperture of the cone, framing a bit of sky of very small
circumference, but almost perfectly round. Just upon the edge
appeared the snowy peak of Saris, standing out sharp and clear
against endless space.
At the bottom of the crater were three chimneys, through which, in
its eruptions, Snæfell had driven forth fire and lava from its
central furnace. Each of these chimneys was a hundred feet in
diameter. They gaped before us right in our path. I had not the
courage to look down either of them. But Professor Liedenbrock had
hastily surveyed all three; he was panting, running from one to the
other, gesticulating, and uttering incoherent expressions. Hans and
his comrades, seated upon loose lava rocks, looked at him with asmuch
wonder as they knew how to express, and perhaps taking him for an
Suddenly my uncle uttered a cry. I thought his foot must have slipped
and that he had fallen down one of the holes. But, no; I saw him,
with arms outstretched and legs straddling wide apart, erect before a
granite rock that stood in the centre of the crater, just like a
pedestal made ready to receive a statue of Pluto. He stood like a man
stupefied, but the stupefaction soon gave way to delirious rapture.
"Axel, Axel," he cried. "Come, come!"
I ran. Hans and the Icelanders never stirred.
"Look!" cried the Professor.
And, sharing his astonishment, but I think not his joy, I read on the
western face of the block, in Runic characters, half mouldered away
with lapse of ages, this thrice-accursed name:
[At this point a Runic text appears]
"Arne Saknussemm!" replied my uncle. "Do you yet doubt?"
I made no answer; and I returned in silence to my lava seat in a
state of utter speechless consternation. Here was crushing evidence.
How long I remained plunged in agonizing reflections I cannot tell;
all that I know is, that on raising my head again, I saw only my
uncle and Hans at the bottom of the crater. The Icelanders had been
dismissed, and they were now descending the outer slopes of Snæfell
to return to Stapi.
Hans slept peaceably at the foot of a rock, in a lava bed, where he
had found a suitable couch for himself; but my uncle was pacing
around the bottom of the crater like a wild beast in a cage. I had
neither the wish nor the strength to rise, and following the guide's
example I went off into an unhappy slumber, fancying I could hear
ominous noises or feel tremblings within the recesses of the mountain.
Thus the first night in the crater passed away.
The next morning, a grey, heavy, cloudy sky seemed to droop over the
summit of the cone. I did not know this first from the appearances of
nature, but I found it out by my uncle's impetuous wrath.
I soon found out the cause, and hope dawned again in my heart. For
Of the three ways open before us, one had been taken by Saknussemm.
The indications of the learned Icelander hinted at in the cryptogram,
pointed to this fact that the shadow of Scartaris came to touch that
particular way during the latter days of the month of June.
That sharp peak might hence be considered as the gnomon of a vast sun
dial, the shadow projected from which on a certain day would point
out the road to the centre of the earth.
Now, no sun no shadow, and therefore no guide. Here was June 25. If
the sun was clouded for six days we must postpone our visit till next
My limited powers of description would fail, were I to attempt a
picture of the Professor's angry impatience. The day wore on, and no
shadow came to lay itself along the bottom of the crater. Hans did
not move from the spot he had selected; yet he must be asking himself
what were we waiting for, if he asked himself anything at all. My
uncle spoke not a word to me. His gaze, ever directed upwards, was
lost in the grey and misty space beyond.
On the 26th nothing yet. Rain mingled with snow was falling all day
long. Hans built a but of pieces of lava. I felt a malicious pleasure
in watching the thousand rills and cascades that came tumbling down
the sides of the cone, and the deafening continuous din awaked by
every stone against which they bounded.
My uncle's rage knew no bounds. It was enough to irritate a meeker
man than he; for it was foundering almost within the port.
But Heaven never sends unmixed grief, and for Professor Liedenbrock
there was a satisfaction in store proportioned to his desperate
The next day the sky was again overcast; but on the 29th of June, the
last day but one of the month, with the change of the moon came a
change of weather. The sun poured a flood of light down the crater.
Every hillock, every rock and stone, every projecting surface, had
its share of the beaming torrent, and threw its shadow on the ground.
Amongst them all, Scartaris laid down his sharp-pointed angular
shadow which began to move slowly in the opposite direction to that
of the radiant orb.
My uncle turned too, and followed it.
At noon, being at its least extent, it came and softly fell upon the
edge of the middle chimney.
"There it is! there it is!" shouted the Professor.
"Now for the centre of the globe!" he added in Danish.
I looked at Hans, to hear what he would say.
"_Forüt!_" was his tranquil answer.
"Forward!" replied my uncle.
It was thirteen minutes past one.
Now began our real journey. Hitherto our toil had overcome all
difficulties, now difficulties would spring up at every step.
I had not yet ventured to look down the bottomless pit into which I
was about to take a plunge The supreme hour had come. I might now
either share in the enterprise or refuse to move forward. But I was
ashamed to recoil in the presence of the hunter. Hans accepted the
enterprise with such calmness, such indifference, such perfect
disregard of any possible danger that I blushed at the idea of being
less brave than he. If I had been alone I might have once more tried
the effect of argument; but in the presence of the guide I held my
peace; my heart flew back to my sweet Virlandaise, and I approached
the central chimney.
I have already mentioned that it was a hundred feet in diameter, and
three hundred feet round. I bent over a projecting rock and gazed
down. My hair stood on end with terror. The bewildering feeling of
vacuity laid hold upon me. I felt my centre of gravity shifting its
place, and giddiness mounting into my brain like drunkenness. There
is nothing more treacherous than this attraction down deep abysses. I
was just about to drop down, when a hand laid hold of me. It was that
of Hans. I suppose I had not taken as many lessons on gulf
exploration as I ought to have done in the Frelsers Kirk at
But, however short was my examination of this well, I had taken some
account of its conformation. Its almost perpendicular walls were
bristling with innumerable projections which would facilitate the
descent. But if there was no want of steps, still there was no rail.
A rope fastened to the edge of the aperture might have helped us
down. But how were we to unfasten it, when arrived at the other end?
My uncle employed a very simple expedient to obviate this difficulty.
He uncoiled a cord of the thickness of a finger, and four hundred
feet long; first he dropped half of it down, then he passed it round
a lava block that projected conveniently, and threw the other half
down the chimney. Each of us could then descend by holding with the
hand both halves of the rope, which would not be able to unroll
itself from its hold; when two hundred feet down, it would be easy to
get possession of the whole of the rope by letting one end go and
pulling down by the other. Then the exercise would go on again _ad
"Now," said my uncle, after having completed these preparations, "now
let us look to our loads. I will divide them into three lots; each of
us will strap one upon his back. I mean only fragile articles."
Of course, we were not included under that head.
"Hans," said he, "will take charge of the tools and a portion of the
provisions; you, Axel, will take another third of the provisions, and
the arms; and I will take the rest of the provisions and the delicate
"But," said I, "the clothes, and that mass of ladders and ropes, what
is to become of them?"
"They will go down by themselves."
"How so?" I asked.
"You will see presently."
My uncle was always willing to employ magnificent resources. Obeying
orders, Hans tied all the non-fragile articles in one bundle, corded
them firmly, and sent them bodily down the gulf before us.
I listened to the dull thuds of the descending bale. My uncle,
leaning over the abyss, followed the descent of the luggage with a
satisfied nod, and only rose erect when he had quite lost sight of it.
"Very well, now it is our turn."
Now I ask any sensible man if it was possible to hear those words
without a shudder.
The Professor fastened his package of instruments upon his shoulders;
Hans took the tools; I took the arms: and the descent commenced in
the following order; Hans, my uncle, and myself. It was effected in
profound silence, broken only by the descent of loosened stones down
the dark gulf.
I dropped as it were, frantically clutching the double cord with one
hand and buttressing myself from the wall with the other by means of
my stick. One idea overpowered me almost, fear lest the rock should
give way from which I was hanging. This cord seemed a fragile thing
for three persons to be suspended from. I made as little use of it as
possible, performing wonderful feats of equilibrium upon the lava
projections which my foot seemed to catch hold of like a hand.
When one of these slippery steps shook under the heavier form of
Hans, he said in his tranquil voice:
"_Gif akt!_ "
"Attention!" repeated my uncle.
In half an hour we were standing upon the surface of a rock jammed in
across the chimney from one side to the other.
Hans pulled the rope by one of its ends, the other rose in the air;
after passing the higher rock it came down again, bringing with it a
rather dangerous shower of bits of stone and lava.
Leaning over the edge of our narrow standing ground, I observed that
the bottom of the hole was still invisible.
The same manuvre was repeated with the cord, and half an hour after
we had descended another two hundred feet.
I don't suppose the maddest geologist under such circumstances would
have studied the nature of the rocks that we were passing. I am sure
I did trouble my head about them. Pliocene, miocene, eocene,
cretaceous, jurassic, triassic, permian, carboniferous, devonian,
silurian, or primitive was all one to me. But the Professor, no
doubt, was pursuing his observations or taking notes, for in one of
our halts he said to me:
"The farther I go the more confidence I feel. The order of these
volcanic formations affords the strongest confirmation to the
theories of Davy. We are now among the primitive rocks, upon which
the chemical operations took place which are produced by the contact
of elementary bases of metals with water. I repudiate the notion of
central heat altogether. We shall see further proof of that very
No variation, always the same conclusion. Of course, I was not
inclined to argue. My silence was taken for consent and the descent
Another three hours, and I saw no bottom to the chimney yet. When I
lifted my head I perceived the gradual contraction of its aperture.
Its walls, by a gentle incline, were drawing closer to each other,
and it was beginning to grow darker.
Still we kept descending. It seemed to me that the falling stones
were meeting with an earlier resistance, and that the concussion gave
a more abrupt and deadened sound.
As I had taken care to keep an exact account of our manuvres with
the rope, which I knew that we had repeated fourteen times, each
descent occupying half an hour, the conclusion was easy that we had
been seven hours, plus fourteen quarters of rest, making ten hours
and a half. We had started at one, it must therefore now be eleven
o'clock; and the depth to which we had descended was fourteen times
200 feet, or 2,800 feet.
At this moment I heard the voice of Hans.
"Halt!" he cried.
I stopped short just as I was going to place my feet upon my uncle's
"We are there," he cried.
"Where?" said I, stepping near to him.
"At the bottom of the perpendicular chimney," he answered.
"Is there no way farther?"
"Yes; there is a sort of passage which inclines to the right. We will
see about that to-morrow. Let us have our supper, and go to sleep."
The darkness was not yet complete. The provision case was opened; we
refreshed ourselves, and went to sleep as well as we could upon a bed
of stones and lava fragments.
When lying on my back, I opened my eyes and saw a bright sparkling
point of light at the extremity of the gigantic tube 3,000 feet long,
now a vast telescope.
It was a star which, seen from this depth, had lost all
scintillation, and which by my computation should be 46; _Ursa
minor._ Then I fell fast asleep.
THE WONDERS OF TERRESTRIAL DEPTHS
At eight in the morning a ray of daylight came to wake us up. The
thousand shining surfaces of lava on the walls received it on its
passage, and scattered it like a shower of sparks.
There was light enough to distinguish surrounding objects.
"Well, Axel, what do you say to it?" cried my uncle, rubbing his
hands. "Did you ever spend a quieter night in our little house at
Königsberg? No noise of cart wheels, no cries of basket women, no
"No doubt it is very quiet at the bottom of this well, but there is
something alarming in the quietness itself."
"Now come!" my uncle cried; "if you are frightened already, what will
you be by and by? We have not gone a single inch yet into the bowels
of the earth."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that we have only reached the level of the island. long
vertical tube, which terminates at the mouth of the crater, has its
lower end only at the level of the sea."
"Are you sure of that?"
"Quite sure. Consult the barometer."
In fact, the mercury, which had risen in the instrument as fast as we
descended, had stopped at twenty-nine inches.
"You see," said the Professor, "we have now only the pressure of our
atmosphere, and I shall be glad when the aneroid takes the place of
And in truth this instrument would become useless as soon as the
weight of the atmosphere should exceed the pressure ascertained at
the level of the sea.
"But," I said, "is there not reason to fear that this ever-increasing
pressure will become at last very painful to bear?"
"No; we shall descend at a slow rate, and our lungs will become
inured to a denser atmosphere. Aeronauts find the want of air as they
rise to high elevations, but we shall perhaps have too much: of the
two, this is what I should prefer. Don't let us lose a moment. Where
is the bundle we sent down before us?"
I then remembered that we had searched for it in vain the evening
before. My uncle questioned Hans, who, after having examined
attentively with the eye of a huntsman, replied:
And so it was. The bundle had been caught by a projection a hundred
feet above us. Immediately the Icelander climbed up like a cat, and
in a few minutes the package was in our possession.
"Now," said my uncle, "let us breakfast; but we must lay in a good
stock, for we don't know how long we may have to go on."
The biscuit and extract of meat were washed down with a draught of
water mingled with a little gin.
Breakfast over, my uncle drew from his pocket a small notebook,
intended for scientific observations. He consulted his instruments,
"Monday, July 1.
"Chronometer, 8.17 a.m.; barometer, 297 in.; thermometer, 6° (43°
F.). Direction, E.S.E."
This last observation applied to the dark gallery, and was indicated
by the compass.
"Now, Axel," cried the Professor with enthusiasm, "now we are really
going into the interior of the earth. At this precise moment the
So saying, my uncle took in one hand Ruhmkorff's apparatus, which was
hanging from his neck; and with the other he formed an electric
communication with the coil in the lantern, and a sufficiently bright
light dispersed the darkness of the passage.
Hans carried the other apparatus, which was also put into action.
This ingenious application of electricity would enable us to go on
for a long time by creating an artificial light even in the midst of
the most inflammable gases.
"Now, march!" cried my uncle.
Each shouldered his package. Hans drove before him the load of cords
and clothes; and, myself walking last, we entered the gallery.
At the moment of becoming engulfed in this dark gallery, I raised my
head, and saw for the last time through the length of that vast tube
the sky of Iceland, which I was never to behold again.
The lava, in the last eruption of 1229, had forced a passage through
this tunnel. It still lined the walls with a thick and glistening
coat. The electric light was here intensified a hundredfold by
The only difficulty in proceeding lay in not sliding too fast down an
incline of about forty-five degrees; happily certain asperities and a
few blisterings here and there formed steps, and we descended,
letting our baggage slip before us from the end of a long rope.
But that which formed steps under our feet became stalactites
overhead. The lava, which was porous in many places, had formed a
surface covered with small rounded blisters; crystals of opaque
quartz, set with limpid tears of glass, and hanging like clustered
chandeliers from the vaulted roof, seemed as it were to kindle and
form a sudden illumination as we passed on our way. It seemed as if
the genii of the depths were lighting up their palace to receive
their terrestrial guests.
"It is magnificent!" I cried spontaneously. "My uncle, what a sight!
Don't you admire those blending hues of lava, passing from reddish
brown to bright yellow by imperceptible shades? And these crystals
are just like globes of light."
"Ali, you think so, do you, Axel, my boy? Well, you will see greater
splendours than these, I hope. Now let us march: march!"
He had better have said slide, for we did nothing but drop down the
steep inclines. It was the facifs _descensus Averni_ of Virgil. The
compass, which I consulted frequently, gave our direction as
southeast with inflexible steadiness. This lava stream deviated
neither to the right nor to the left.
Yet there was no sensible increase of temperature. This justified
Davy's theory, and more than once I consulted the thermometer with
surprise. Two hours after our departure it only marked 10° (50°
Fahr.), an increase of only 4°. This gave reason for believing that
our descent was more horizontal than vertical. As for the exact depth
reached, it was very easy to ascertain that; the Professor measured
accurately the angles of deviation and inclination on the road, but
he kept the results to himself.
About eight in the evening he signalled to stop. Hans sat down at
once. The lamps were hung upon a projection in the lava; we were in a
sort of cavern where there was plenty of air. Certain puffs of air
reached us. What atmospheric disturbance was the cause of them? I
could not answer that question at the moment. Hunger and fatigue made
me incapable of reasoning. A descent of seven hours consecutively is
not made without considerable expenditure of strength. I was
exhausted. The order to 'halt' therefore gave me pleasure. Hans laid
our provisions upon a block of lava, and we ate with a good appetite.
But one thing troubled me, our supply of water was half consumed. My
uncle reckoned upon a fresh supply from subterranean sources, but
hitherto we had met with none. I could not help drawing his attention
to this circumstance.
"Are you surprised at this want of springs?" he said.
"More than that, I am anxious about it; we have only water enough for
"Don't be uneasy, Axel, we shall find more than we want."
"When we have left this bed of lava behind us. How could springs
break through such walls as these?"
"But perhaps this passage runs to a very great depth. It seems to me
that we have made no great progress vertically."
"Why do you suppose that?"
"Because if we had gone deep into the crust of earth, we should have
encountered greater heat."
"According to your system," said my uncle. "But what does the
"Hardly fifteen degrees (59° Fahr), nine degrees only since our
"Well, what is your conclusion?"
"This is my conclusion. According to exact observations, the increase
of temperature in the interior of the globe advances at the rate of
one degree (1 4/5° Fahr.) for every hundred feet. But certain local
conditions may modify this rate. Thus at Yakoutsk in Siberia the
increase of a degree is ascertained to be reached every 36 feet. This
difference depends upon the heat-conducting power of the rocks.
Moreover, in the neighbourhood of an extinct volcano, through gneiss,
it has been observed that the increase of a degree is only attained
at every 125 feet. Let us therefore assume this last hypothesis as
the most suitable to our situation, and calculate."
"Well, do calculate, my boy."
"Nothing is easier," said I, putting down figures in my note book.
"Nine times a hundred and twenty-five feet gives a depth of eleven
hundred and twenty-five feet."
"Very accurate indeed."
"By my observation we are at 10,000 feet below the level of the sea."
"Is that possible?"
"Yes, or figures are of no use."
The Professor's calculations were quite correct. We had already
attained a depth of six thousand feet beyond that hitherto reached by
the foot of man, such as the mines of Kitz Bahl in Tyrol, and those
of Wuttembourg in Bohemia.
The temperature, which ought to have been 81° (178° Fahr.) was
scarcely 15° (59° Fahr.). Here was cause for reflection.
GEOLOGICAL STUDIES IN SITU
Next day, Tuesday, June 30, at 6 a.m., the descent began again.
We were still following the gallery of lava, a real natural
staircase, and as gently sloping as those inclined planes which in
some old houses are still found instead of flights of steps. And so
we went on until 12.17, the, precise moment when we overtook Hans,
who had stopped.
"Ah! here we are," exclaimed my uncle, "at the very end of the
I looked around me. We were standing at the intersection of two
roads, both dark and narrow. Which were we to take? This was a
Still my uncle refused to admit an appearance of hesitation, either
before me or the guide; he pointed out the Eastern tunnel, and we
were soon all three in it.
Besides there would have been interminable hesitation before this
choice of roads; for since there was no indication whatever to guide
our choice, we were obliged to trust to chance.
The slope of this gallery was scarcely perceptible, and its sections
very unequal. Sometimes we passed a series of arches succeeding each
other like the majestic arcades of a gothic cathedral. Here the
architects of the middle ages might have found studies for every form
of the sacred art which sprang from the development of the pointed
arch. A mile farther we had to bow or heads under corniced elliptic
arches in the romanesque style; and massive pillars standing out from
the wall bent under the spring of the vault that rested heavily upon
them. In other places this magnificence gave way to narrow channels
between low structures which looked like beaver's huts, and we had to
creep along through extremely narrow passages.
The heat was perfectly bearable. Involuntarily I began to think of
its heat when the lava thrown out by Snæfell was boiling and working
through this now silent road. I imagined the torrents of fire hurled
back at every angle in the gallery, and the accumulation of intensely
heated vapours in the midst of this confined channel.
I only hope, thought I, that this so-called extinct volcano won't
take a fancy in his old age to begin his sports again!
I abstained from communicating these fears to Professor Liedenbrock.
He would never have understood them at all. He had but one idea -
forward! He walked, he slid, he scrambled, he tumbled, with a
persistency which one could not but admire.
By six in the evening, after a not very fatiguing walk, we had gone
two leagues south, but scarcely a quarter of a mile down.
My uncle said it was time to go to sleep. We ate without talking, and
went to sleep without reflection.
Our arrangements for the night were very simple; a railway rug each,
into which we rolled ourselves, was our sole covering. We had neither
cold nor intrusive visits to fear. Travellers who penetrate into the
wilds of central Africa, and into the pathless forests of the New
World, are obliged to watch over each other by night. But we enjoyed
absolute safety and utter seclusion; no savages or wild beasts
infested these silent depths.
Next morning, we awoke fresh and in good spirits. The road was
resumed. As the day before, we followed the path of the lava. It was
impossible to tell what rocks we were passing: the tunnel, instead of
tending lower, approached more and more nearly to a horizontal
direction, I even fancied a slight rise. But about ten this upward
tendency became so evident, and therefore so fatiguing, that I was
obliged to slacken my pace.
"Well, Axel?" demanded the Professor impatiently.
"Well, I cannot stand it any longer," I replied.
"What! after three hours' walk over such easy ground."
"It may be easy, but it is tiring all the same."
"What, when we have nothing to do but keep going down!"
"Going up, if you please."
"Going up!" said my uncle, with a shrug.
"No doubt, for the last half-hour the inclines have gone the other
way, and at this rate we shall soon arrive upon the level soil of
The Professor nodded slowly and uneasily like a man that declines to
be convinced. I tried to resume the conversation. He answered not a
word, and gave the signal for a start. I saw that his silence was
nothing but ill-humour.
Still I had courageously shouldered my burden again, and was rapidly
following Hans, whom my uncle preceded. I was anxious not to be left
behind. My greatest care was not to lose sight of my companions. I
shuddered at the thought of being lost in the mazes of this vast
Besides, if the ascending road did become steeper, I was comforted
with the thought that it was bringing us nearer to the surface. There
was hope in this. Every step confirmed me in it, and I was rejoicing
at the thought of meeting my little Gräuben again.
By midday there was a change in the appearance of this wall of the
gallery. I noticed it by a diminution of the amount of light
reflected from the sides; solid rock was appearing in the place of
the lava coating. The mass was composed of inclined and sometimes
vertical strata. We were passing through rocks of the transition or
silurian [l] system.
"It is evident," I cried, "the marine deposits formed in the second
period, these shales, limestones, and sandstones. We are turning away
from the primary granite. We are just as if we were people of Hamburg
going to Lubeck by way of Hanover!"
I had better have kept my observations to myself. But my geological
instinct was stronger than my prudence, and uncle Liedenbrock heard
"What's that you are saying?" he asked.
"See," I said, pointing to the varied series of sandstones and
limestones, and the first indication of slate.
"We are at the period when the first plants and animals appeared."
"Do you think so?"
"Look close, and examine."
I obliged the Professor to move his lamp over the walls of the
gallery. I expected some signs of astonishment; but he spoke not a
word, and went on.
Had he understood me or not? Did he refuse to admit, out of self-love
as an uncle and a philosopher, that he had mistaken his way when he
chose the eastern tunnel? or was he determined to examine this
passage to its farthest extremity? It was evident that we had left
the lava path, and that this road could not possibly lead to the
extinct furnace of Snæfell.
Yet I asked myself if I was not depending too much on this change in
the rock. Might I not myself be mistaken? Were we really crossing the
layers of rock which overlie the granite foundation?
The name given by Sir Roderick Murchison to a vast series of
fossiliferous strata, which lies between the non-fossiliferous slaty
schists below and the old red sandstone above. The system is well
developed in the region of Shropshire, etc., once inhabited by the
Silures under Caractacus, or Caradoc. (Tr.)
If I am right, I thought, I must soon find some fossil remains of
primitive life; and then we must yield to evidence. I will look.
I had not gone a hundred paces before incontestable proofs presented
themselves. It could not be otherwise, for in the Silurian age the
seas contained at least fifteen hundred vegetable and animal species.
My feet, which had become accustomed to the indurated lava floor,
suddenly rested upon a dust composed of the _debris_ of plants and
shells. In the walls were distinct impressions of fucoids and
Professor Liedenbrock could not be mistaken, I thought, and yet he
pushed on, with, I suppose, his eyes resolutely shut.
This was only invincible obstinacy. I could hold out no longer. I
picked up a perfectly formed shell, which had belonged to an animal
not unlike the woodlouse: then, joining my uncle, I said:
"Look at this!"
"Very well," said he quietly, "it is the shell of a crustacean, of an
extinct species called a trilobite. Nothing more."
"But don't you conclude --?"
"Just what you conclude yourself. Yes; I do, perfectly. We have left
the granite and the lava. It is possible that I may be mistaken. But
I cannot be sure of that until I have reached the very end of this
"You are right in doing this, my uncle, and I should quite approve of
your determination, if there were not a danger threatening us nearer
"The want of water."
"Well, Axel, we will put ourselves upon rations."
THE FIRST SIGNS OF DISTRESS
In fact, we had to ration ourselves. Our provision of water could not
last more than three days. I found that out for certain when
supper-time came. And, to our sorrow, we had little reason to expect
to find a spring in these transition beds.
The whole of the next day the gallery opened before us its endless
arcades. We moved on almost without a word. Hans' silence seemed to
be infecting us.
The road was now not ascending, at least not perceptibly. Sometimes,
even, it seemed to have a slight fall. But this tendency, which was
very trifling, could not do anything to reassure the Professor; for
there was no change in the beds, and the transitional characteristics
became more and more decided.
The electric light was reflected in sparkling splendour from the
schist, limestone, and old red sandstone of the walls. It might have
been thought that we were passing through a section of Wales, of
which an ancient people gave its name to this system. Specimens of
magnificent marbles clothed the walls, some of a greyish agate
fantastically veined with white, others of rich crimson or yellow
dashed with splotches of red; then came dark cherry-coloured marbles
relieved by the lighter tints of limestone.
The greater part of these bore impressions of primitive organisms.
Creation had evidently advanced since the day before. Instead of
rudimentary trilobites, I noticed remains of a more perfect order of
beings, amongst others ganoid fishes and some of those sauroids in
which palaeontologists have discovered the earliest reptile forms.
The Devonian seas were peopled by animals of these species, and
deposited them by thousands in the rocks of the newer formation.
It was evident that we were ascending that scale of animal life in
which man fills the highest place. But Professor Liedenbrock seemed
not to notice it.
He was awaiting one of two events, either the appearance of a
vertical well opening before his feet, down which our descent might
be resumed, or that of some obstacle which should effectually turn us
back on our own footsteps. But evening came and neither wish was
On Friday, after a night during which I felt pangs of thirst, our
little troop again plunged into the winding passages of the gallery.
After ten hours' walking I observed a singular deadening of the
reflection of our lamps from the side walls. The marble, the schist,
the limestone, and the sandstone were giving way to a dark and
lustreless lining. At one moment, the tunnel becoming very narrow, I
leaned against the wall.
When I removed my hand it was black. I looked nearer, and found we
were in a coal formation.
"A coal mine!" I cried.
"A mine without miners," my uncle replied.
"Who knows?" I asked.
"I know," the Professor pronounced decidedly, "I am certain that this
gallery driven through beds of coal was never pierced by the hand of
man. But whether it be the hand of nature or not does not matter.
Supper time is come; let us sup."
Hans prepared some food. I scarcely ate, and I swallowed down the few
drops of water rationed out to me. One flask half full was all we had
left to slake the thirst of three men.
After their meal my two companions laid themselves down upon their
rugs, and found in sleep a solace for their fatigue. But I could not
sleep, and I counted every hour until morning.
On Saturday, at six, we started afresh. In twenty minutes we reached
a vast open space; I then knew that the hand of man had not hollowed
out this mine; the vaults would have been shored up, and, as it was,
they seemed to be held up by a miracle of equilibrium.
This cavern was about a hundred feet wide and a hundred and fifty in
height. A large mass had been rent asunder by a subterranean
disturbance. Yielding to some vast power from below it had broken
asunder, leaving this great hollow into which human beings were now
penetrating for the first time.
The whole history of the carboniferous period was written upon these
gloomy walls, and a geologist might with ease trace all its diverse
phases. The beds of coal were separated by strata of sandstone or
compact clays, and appeared crushed under the weight of overlying
At the age of the world which preceded the secondary period, the
earth was clothed with immense vegetable forms, the product of the
double influence of tropical heat and constant moisture; a vapoury
atmosphere surrounded the earth, still veiling the direct rays of the
Thence arises the conclusion that the high temperature then existing
was due to some other source than the heat of the sun. Perhaps even
the orb of day may not have been ready yet to play the splendid part
he now acts. There were no 'climates' as yet, and a torrid heat,
equal from pole to equator, was spread over the whole surface of the
globe. Whence this heat? Was it from the interior of the earth?
Notwithstanding the theories of Professor Liedenbrock, a violent heat
did at that time brood within the body of the spheroid. Its action
was felt to the very last coats of the terrestrial crust; the plants,
unacquainted with the beneficent influences of the sun, yielded
neither flowers nor scent. But their roots drew vigorous life from
the burning soil of the early days of this planet.
There were but few trees. Herbaceous plants alone existed. There were
tall grasses, ferns, lycopods, besides sigillaria, asterophyllites,
now scarce plants, but then the species might be counted by thousands.
The coal measures owe their origin to this period of profuse
vegetation. The yet elastic and yielding crust of the earth obeyed
the fluid forces beneath. Thence innumerable fissures and
depressions. The plants, sunk underneath the waters, formed by
degrees into vast accumulated masses.
Then came the chemical action of nature; in the depths of the seas
the vegetable accumulations first became peat; then, acted upon by
generated gases and the heat of fermentation, they underwent a
process of complete mineralization.
Thus were formed those immense coalfields, which nevertheless, are
not inexhaustible, and which three centuries at the present
accelerated rate of consumption will exhaust unless the industrial
world will devise a remedy.
These reflections came into my mind whilst I was contemplating the
mineral wealth stored up in this portion of the globe. These no
doubt, I thought, will never be discovered; the working of such deep
mines would involve too large an outlay, and where would be the use
as long as coal is yet spread far and wide near the surface? Such as
my eyes behold these virgin stores, such they will be when this world
comes to an end.
But still we marched on, and I alone was forgetting the length of the
way by losing myself in the midst of geological contemplations. The
temperature remained what it had been during our passage through the