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Title: The Desert World
Author: Mangin, Arthur, 1824-1887
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Every attempt has been made to replicate the original book as printed.
The footnotes have been located at the end of the etext. Some
typographical errors have been corrected. A list follows the etext. No
attempt has been made to correct or normalize printed botanical names.
The footnotes have all been moved to the end of the etext. Some
illustrations have been moved from within paragraphs for ease of
reading. (etext transcriber's note)]



                           THE DESERT WORLD.

                                "For I have learned
         To look on Nature, not as in the hour
         Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
         The still sad music of humanity."
                           WORDSWORTH



                           THE DESERT WORLD.

                   FROM THE FRENCH OF ARTHUR MANGIN.

                          Edited and Enlarged

                                  _BY_

              _THE TRANSLATOR OF "THE BIRD, BY MICHELET."_

   WITH 160 ILLUSTRATIONS BY W. FREEMAN, FOULQUIER, AND YAN DARGENT.

                                LONDON:
                  T. NELSON AND SONS, PATERNOSTER ROW;
                        EDINBURGH; AND NEW YORK.

                                 1869.



Preface.


The area of our present work would be very limited if we understood the
word _Desert_ in its more rigorous signification; for we should then
have only to consider those desolate wildernesses which an inclement sky
and a sterile soil seem to exclude for ever from man's dominion.

But, by a license which usage authorizes, we are able to attribute to
this term a much more extended sense; and to call _Deserts_ not only the
sandy seas of Africa and Asia, the icy wastes of the Poles, and the
inaccessible crests of the great mountain-chains; but all the regions
where man has not planted his regular communities or permanent abodes;
where earth has never been appropriated, tilled, and subjected to
cultivation; where Nature has maintained her inviolability against the
encroachments of human industry.

Thus understood, the picture we are about to trace assumes not only vast
proportions, but an infinite variety of aspects.

Here and there, it is true, our eyes will rest on the gloomy spectacle
of rugged solitudes, where the soil churlishly refuses almost every kind
of product, where the boldest traveller cannot penetrate without a
shudder, and where the very beast of prey is rather a visitor than an
inhabitant: lugubrious regions, on whose threshold one might write the
legend written, according to Dante, on the gates of hell--

    "Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate."
     (All hope abandon, ye who enter here.)

But, on the whole, these true Deserts offer ample material for the
admiration of the artist, the meditations of the thinker, the researches
of the naturalist and the physician. Theirs is that kind of beauty which
borders on the sublime, and which impresses us so powerfully in the
Ocean. And, like the Ocean, they awake in the soul the feeling of
infinity. They render it forgetful of the tumultuous regions which are
perturbed by petty passions, and vexed by the contentions of ephemeral
interests, and transport it to the boundless space and the eternal
spheres, or allow it to draw back within itself and muse upon its future
destiny.

Finally, what grave problems does the Desert place before the man of
science! And first, why do life and fertility prevail elsewhere,--here,
sterility and death? Why does an irrevocable curse seem to weigh upon
certain parts of the world, while others rejoice in Nature's fairest
gifts? It is by examining the constitution of the soil and the character
of the climate that we discover the key to this enigma, and recognize in
this apparent anomaly a necessary effect of the harmonious laws of the
universe. Then the Desert has a geology and a meteorology of its own; is
the theatre of special phenomena, which we do not observe in more
favoured regions. Life itself is not completely absent from it;
specimens of the organic kingdoms are rare, no doubt, but for this very
reason are the more interesting.

And if, from the Desert properly so called, we pass to those countries
where the genial air and the abundant waters favour the action of the
productive forces, the interest increases with the increasing
development of life. The picture changes every moment, and every moment
grows more animated. The scenes of the savage world unfold before our
eyes like a moving panorama; unexpected incidents and dramatic episodes
multiply one upon another. Every region appears before us with its
primitive aspect, its grand and picturesque landscapes, its
characteristic fauna and flora--frequently, also, with its tribes of
white, or tawny, or black, or copper-coloured men, whose singular
manners, brutal instincts, fierce passions, and wretched condition
offer, in all its mournful reality, the spectacle of that "state of
nature" celebrated by a great writer as the ideal of virtue and
happiness.

       *       *       *       *       *

To conclude: the task which I here pursue is the same which I recently
commenced by the publication of my "Mysteries of the Ocean;"[1] to
invite and prepare the general reader and the young for the study of the
physical and natural sciences, by bringing before them the most
interesting results of the discoveries and the observations with which
these sciences have been enriched. Only, this new essay is entirely
descriptive, and has no didactic pretensions. I have contented myself
with sketching the physiognomy of the great regions not yet conquered by
civilization, with indicating the more remarkable features they present,
the peoples by whom they are inhabited, and the important plants and
animals they nourish.

THE AUTHOR.

[The TRANSLATOR has only to add, that he has made copious additions to
the original work, with the view of rendering its scope more
comprehensive and complete, and of adapting it specially to the
requirements of the English reader. He has also corrected and confirmed
M. Mangin's statements by reference to the best and most recent
authorities, without, he would hope, any injury to the original scheme,
or any detriment to the value of M. Mangin's agreeable and highly
interesting chapters.]

A.



Contents.


BOOK I.

THE DESERTS OF EUROPE AND ASIA:--THE LANDES, THE DUNES, AND THE STEPPES.

CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

I. THE DESERT IN FRANCE:--THE LANDES OF BRITTANY,                     13

II. THE LANDES OF GASCONY,                                            24

III. THE DUNES, OR SAND-HILLS,                                        32

IV. WILD SCENES OF ENGLAND:--DARTMOOR AND THE FEN COUNTRY,            39

V. THE STEPPES:--THE DESERT IN RUSSIA, SIBERIA, AND TARTARY,          46

VI. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE STEPPES:--THE WILD HORSE AND THE CAMEL,        51

VII. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE STEPPES:--WILD RUMINATING ANIMALS,
     RODENTS, CARNIVORA, BIRDS,                                       64

VIII. INHABITANTS OF THE STEPPES:--TARTARS, COSSACKS, KALMUCKS,
      KIRGHIZ, MONGOLS,                                               78


BOOK II.

THE DESERTS OF SAND:--THE DESERTS OF EUROPE AND AFRICA.

I. THE RAINLESS DESERT--THE BED OF A SEA--THE DEAD SEA,               95

II. ARABIA DESERTA AND ARABIA PETRÆA,                                106

III. THE NUBIAN DESERT--THE GREAT SAHARA--DESERTS OF AFRICA,         118

IV. PHENOMENA OF THE DESERT,                                         134

V. VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE DESERT--THE OASES,                          148

VI. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE DESERT,                                       162

VII. THE MEN OF THE DESERT,                                          174


BOOK III.

PRAIRIES, SAVANNAHS, PAMPAS, AND LLANOS.

I. WILD PLAINS OF THE OLD WORLD:--THE AFRICAN INTERIOR,              186

II. DESERTS OF THE NEW WORLD:--PRAIRIES, PAMPAS, LLANOS,             207

III. THE AUSTRALIAN INTERIOR,                                        231

IV. VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE AFRICAN PLAINS,                            240

V. VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE PRAIRIES, PAMPAS, AND LLANOS
   OF THE NEW WORLD,                                                 258

VI. FLORA OF THE AUSTRALIAN PLAINS,                                  273

VII. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE PRAIRIES OF THE OLD WORLD:--HERBIVOROUS
     ANIMALS,                                                        281

VIII. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE PRAIRIES OF THE OLD WORLD--CONTINUED:--THE
CARNIVORA,                                                           300

IX. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE PRAIRIES OF THE OLD WORLD--CONTINUED:--BIRDS AND
REPTILES,                                                            317

X. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE PRAIRIES OF THE NEW WORLD:--HERBIVORA, INSECTIVORA,
AND CARNIVORA,                                                       328

XI. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE PRAIRIES OF THE NEW WORLD--CONTINUED:--BIRDS AND
REPTILES,                                                            353

XII. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE AUSTRALIAN PRAIRIES,                         366


BOOK IV.

THE FORESTS.

I. THE VIRGIN FORESTS,                                               379

II. VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE FORESTS OF THE OLD WORLD,                  397

III. VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE FORESTS OF THE GREAT ISLANDS,             412

IV. VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE FORESTS OF THE NEW WORLD,                  428

V. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE TROPICAL FORESTS:--THE ELEPHANT--THE
   RHINOCEROS,                                                       447

VI. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE VIRGIN FORESTS:--THE GREAT APES,              463

VII. THE ANTHROPOMORPHIC
     APES:--ORANGS--GIBBONS--CHIMPANZEES--GORILLAS,                  472

VIII. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE FORESTS:--THE CEBIDÆ, OR MONKEYS OF
      AMERICA--THE LEMURS--THE SLOTHS--THE SQUIRRELS,                487

IX. MAN IN THE SAVANNAHS AND THE FORESTS:--ANTHROPOPHAGY,            502

X. MAN IN THE SAVANNAHS AND THE FORESTS:--THE SAVAGE RACES--THE
NEGROES,                                                             514

XI. MAN IN THE SAVANNAHS AND THE FORESTS:--THE MALAYS--POLYNESIANS--THE
NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS,                                              526


BOOK V.

THE POLAR DESERTS--THE MOUNTAINS.

I. THE POLAR DESERTS,                                                543

II. ANIMAL LIFE AND VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE POLAR DESERTS,             555

III. THE INHABITANTS OF THE ARCTIC WILDERNESSES:--THE LAPLANDERS,
SAMOIEDES, OSTIAKS, KAMTSCHATDALES, ESKIMOS (OR ESQUIMAUX),          569

IV. THE MOUNTAINS,                                                   579

V. VEGETABLE LIFE AND ANIMAL LIFE IN THE MOUNTAINS,                  598

[Illustration]



THE DESERT WORLD.

BOOK I.

_THE DESERTS OF EUROPE AND ASIA: THE LANDES, THE DUNES, AND THE
STEPPES._



CHAPTER I.

THE DESERT IN FRANCE:--THE LANDES OF BRITTANY.


To those whose imaginations have been kindled by glowing pictures of the
African Sahara and the Arabian wilderness, it will be, perhaps, a matter
of surprise to learn that even fertile and civilized Europe includes
within her boundaries regions which are scarcely less cheerless or
desolate, though, happily, of far inferior extent.

Thus, it would be possible for a Frenchman whom the engagements of
business, the pressure of limited means, or the ties of home, prevented
from undertaking any distant voyages, to obtain a vivid conception of
the great Deserts of the World without crossing the confines of his own
country.

In France, so richly cultivated, so laborious, and so blessed by genial
Nature, there are, nevertheless, a few districts where her sons may
wholly forget--may almost disbelieve in the existence of--her cities
stirring with the "hum of men," her vineyards and her gardens, her
grassy pastures, her prolific meadows, her well-ordered highways, and
those "iron roads" which are the incessant channels of such restless
energy, movement, and vigorous life.

Bare and desolate enough, and as yet unconquered by advancing
civilization, are the mountains of France: among its gigantic ranges of
the Jura, the Vosges, and the Cevennes,[2] the traveller may still
ascend precipitous rocks, may hearken to the deafening roar of foamy
torrents, may contemplate with astonished gaze the masses of stone
upheaved in some convulsion of the ancient world, may listen to the
hoarse cry of the eagle, a s

    "Close to the sun in lonely lands,
     Ringed with the azure world he stands."

In the Alps, profaned as they now-a-days are by noisy tourists; in the
Pyrenees, whither Alpine clubs have not yet extended their
encroachments, he who ascends some 8000 or 9000 feet may still wander
among ice and snow which the sun's rays never loosen, and gather in his
mind's eye a picture of the colossal peaks of Asia and the New World, of
the virgin summits of the Himalaya and the Cordilleras. There you may
follow with entranced vision the swooping wing of the lammergeyer; or
trace the nimble feet of the shy chamois; or, like Manfred, muse and
wonder, while

                "The sunbow's rays still arch
    The torrent with the many hues of heaven,
    And roll the sheeted silver's waving column
    O'er the crag's headlong perpendicular."

Mayhap, if favoured by Fortune, you may even find yourself face to face,
in the abrupt bend of some obscure ravine, with a bear, which, calm and
unsuspicious, looks on as you pass by, as if he were ignorant of men,
and had never heard the ringing echoes of the hunter's rifle.

[Illustration: A PYRENEAN LANDSCAPE.]

It is less easy--in France, at least--to discover the old shadowy,
leafy, almost impervious forest. The most celebrated--that of
Fontainebleau--despite its enormous trees, its rudely broken surface,
its stags and roebucks reserved for imperial sport, despite its few
adders and problematical vipers, is now little better than a rendezvous
for amateur artists and listless idlers. Its well-kept avenues resound
with rapid wheels, and you can scarcely stir a step without finding the
associations of the place interrupted by the stalls of vendors of cakes
or the apparatus of itinerant gamblers. This profanation is surely to be
regretted, for the Forest exhibits many landscapes of surpassing
interest, as the rocks of Franchart, the glens of Apremont, and, above
all, that Sahara in miniature, the sands of Arbonne. Nor would one
willingly forget the historical memories which immortalize the famous
palace where Francis I. received his after-time conqueror, Charles V.;
where the wayward and half-insane Christina of Sweden listened with
cruel delight to the groans of the murdered Monaldeschi; where Madame Du
Barry lavished her shameless graces; where Pope Pius VII. lingered
through two years of gilded captivity; and where Napoleon bade farewell
to his dreams of universal empire.[3]

Among the uncultivated regions of France we may mention the marshes of
the Bresse, of Forez, of the Sologne, of Upper Brittany, and of Picardy.
The greater portion of these marshes, owing to the peat which forms
their bed, is vigorously and not unsuccessfully worked. They are
traversed by trenches dug at right angles, and on whose border are
placed the turf-cutter's little hut, and the furnace in which the peat
is baked. Their lagoons, and the canals which connect them, swarm with
flat-bottomed boats. Man, in a word, has taken possession of them;
braving the unhealthy vapours which enfeeble his frame and shorten his
life, he builds his squalid abode on the rising ground left uncovered by
the waters. The largest of these peat-bogs are those of Montoir and the
Grand Brière, near Savenay, in the department of the Loire Inférieure.
They occupy a considerable area of a vast desolate plain, where a few
lean sheep crop an insufficient food from the scanty herbage, and whose
sole product is turf. "This country," says Jules Janin,[4] "has no other
harvest, no other wealth than its peat; neither fruit, nor flowers, nor
corn, nor pastures, nor repose, nor well-being; the earth is wild, the
sky one of iron. It is a region of stagnant waters, pestiferous
exhalations, decrepit men, famished animals."

The swampy levels of Montoir form the natural vestibule to the Armorican
Peninsula, which of all the French provinces has the longest and the
most vigorously withstood the advance of civilization, its ideas, and
its modern institutions, and has the most rigidly preserved its
primitive character. There are many nooks and corners in Brittany
scarcely changed in outward aspect or inner life since the remote days
when it was a valued appanage of the English crown. They seem to have
been plunged in a sleep of centuries, from which the shrill whistle of
the steam-engine is only just awakening them. The country is undulating
and broken; in the central districts it assumes quite a mountainous
character. It is true that its heights are only of moderate elevation,
the loftiest not exceeding 2000 feet; but they are barren, rude, and
sombre in appearance. The coast is picturesque enough to delight the
most zealous artist, bordered with high and abrupt cliffs, and lined, as
it were, with a beach where the waters of the Channel ever break in
floods of spray and foam, and where masses of rock lie scattered of
immense size and the most fantastic forms.

Geologically speaking, Brittany may be regarded as a prolongation of our
English mountains, to which, like all the north-west coast of France,
they were anciently united. In some remote era a vast convulsion opened
in the solid land a chasm through which the oceans poured their meeting
waters, and separated our beloved island from the European continent;
the sole condition under which, perhaps, it was possible for the English
people to have accomplished their destiny. Anchored amid the protecting
seas, we are able to regard from afar, like a watchman from a tower, the
convulsions that sweep across the face of Europe. Like the watchman, we
cannot refuse to be moved by the spectacle, by the stir and the tumult;
but it is only considerations of duty that can induce us to descend from
our security, and mingle in the fray.

Brittany belongs to what geologists call the primitive and intermediary
formations. It is divided into three belts or longitudinal trenches:
those of the north and south consist of primitive rocks, granite and
porphyry; the central appertains to a more recent formation, to the
group of intermediary or secondary rocks, composed in the main of
schists and mica-schists, quartz, and gneiss. Schist prevails over a
considerable area, and is prolonged to the very extremity of the
peninsula. These hard, compact, impervious rocks, are entirely bare in
many places; elsewhere, and over a great extent, they are covered but by
a thin layer of clayey and sandy earth, where the sudden slopes of the
soil do not allow the rains to settle.

Here are the plains, often of considerable dimensions, which, bristling
with rocks, and broken up by ravines, water-courses, and marshes,
constitute the Landes of Brittany. True deserts these, relieved at
distant points by an isolated hut, or by a wandering herd of swine, lean
cows, and meagre-looking horses, which obtain a scanty subsistence from
the heathery soil, sown here and there with tufts of furze, broom, and
fern.

Under a sky of almost continual sombreness, like that which impends over
the pottery districts of England, these landes present a sufficiently
sinister and uninviting aspect. The traveller, as he crosses their
sepulchral wastes, will hardly marvel that they were anciently a chosen
seat of Druidical worship. Like Dartmoor, they would seem to have
offered a peculiarly fitting arena for the rites and ceremonies of a
creed which we know to have been mysterious in character and sanguinary
in spirit. They are covered with its gray memorials: the masses of
granite of different shapes known as _Maen hirs_, or "long stones," and
_peulvens_, which appear to have been employed as sepulchral monuments;
_dolmens_, or "table-stones;" and _cromlechs_ (_crom_, bowed or bending,
and _lech_, a stone), which antiquaries are now agreed to regard as the
remains of the ancient cemeteries or burial places. At Camae, near
Quiberon Bay, may be seen a truly remarkable example of the
_Parallelitha_, or avenues of upright stones, forming five parallel
rows, which extend for miles over the dreary moorland. What were their
uses it is impossible to determine, for there seems little ground to
believe, as some writers would have us believe, that they were "serpent
temples," where the old Ophite worship was celebrated. We can only gaze
at them in wonder: mile upon mile of gray lichen-stained stones, some
twenty feet high, laboriously fashioned and raised in their present
places by the hand of man some twenty centuries agone.[5]

On these very _dolmens_, where the priests of the Tentates were wont to
immolate their human victims to their unknown god, the mediæval
sorcerers and sorceresses celebrated the Black Mass, or Mass of Satan,
in terrible burlesque of the Roman Catholic sacrament, concocted their
abominable philtres, and performed their dreary incantations. Alas for
human nature! In every age it is a prey to the wildest credulity. Even
in the present day more than one superstition hovers around the
monuments of the Celtic epoch. The Bretons believe them haunted by
demons called _poulpiquets_, who love to make sport of the passing
stranger, but will sometimes give both counsel and encouragement to
those who know how to address them in the prescribed formulas; who, like
the Ladye in the "Lay of the Last Minstrel," at their bidding can bow

    "The viewless forms of air."

For, in the Breton mind, the superstitions of Druidism have not been
wholly uprooted by the teachings of Christianity, still less by those of
science and reason. Many a dark and dismal legend flourishes in the
lonely recesses of the landes.[6]

[Illustration: CELTIC MEMORIALS IN BRITTANY.]

Brittany, like England, has its _Cornouaille_, or Cornwall, and it is
here, particularly in North Cornwall, that we see it under its most
desolate aspect, with its chains of black treeless hills covered with
heath and furze; with its deserts of broom and fern, its ruins scattered
along the winding roads, its attenuated herds wandering at their will
across the moors, and its savage, ignorant, and scanty population. The
Bretons of Cornwall, according to a French writer, are elevated but a
little above the true savage life. Those who dwell upon the coast live
on the products of their fishing, except when the fortunate occurrence
of a wreck provides them with temporary abundance. At bottom, they
possess the qualities and defects of characters strongly tempered, but
absolutely uncultivated. They are as hard and bare as their own granite
rocks. Persevering, courageous, resolute, they make excellent sailors,
the best which France can find; the sea is for them a second country.
Progress, which they do not understand, inspires them with a sort of
terror, a gloomy mistrust. When the railway surveyors first intruded
upon their solitudes, these rigid conservatives assailed them with
volleys of stones, and when the railroads were laid down flung beams
across the lines to overthrow the hissing, whirring trains which
threatened to disturb their prescriptive barbarism. They asked but to be
let alone--to be suffered to live as their forefathers lived--to be
spared the ingenuities, successes, vices, and virtues of the New World.
But modern civilization, like Thor's hammer, or Siegfried's magic sword
Balmung, will break down the last barriers raised by ignorance and
superstition. It will shed its light upon the wilds and wastes of
Brittany, and compel their inhabitants in the course of years to
acknowledge its value and accept its benefits.



CHAPTER II.

THE LANDES OF GASCONY.


The Breton "Cornwall" has been called by a popular French writer, "the
Arabia Petrea of Brittany." But we might, perhaps, with greater justice
apply to this sombre region, peopled as it is with fantastic visions,
the name of "Land of Fear," which the Arabs bestow on the Great Desert.
Less vivid, it may be, but graver and more profound is the impression
produced by the Landes and Dunes of Gascony. These deserts of the south,
which Michelet terms "the vestibule and threshold of the Ocean," appeal
less powerfully to the imagination. They are haunted by no historical
memories, no traditions or marvellous legends in which man has rudely
embodied his dim conceptions of the mysteries of nature; they are
crowded with no monuments of antiquity to revive the shadows of the
heroes and priests of ancient Gaul; and when these are wanting, what
shall supply their place? But ample scope exists for the assiduous
labours of the naturalist, who here may see at work those unresting
forces which have inspired every revolution of the globe's surface; who
may contemplate here the phenomena that occur with the same regularity
as in the days when man had not been fashioned after his Maker's image--

    "Him framing like himself, all shining bright;
     A little living sun, son of the living light."[7]

These despoiled plains, these inhospitable wilds, alternately dry and
marshy; these sullen pools, these mountains of shifting sand, speak
forcibly to his mind of their past history, which is not one of the
least curious episodes of the history of the physical world.

The department which borrows its name from the Landes of Gascony is
divided by the Adour into two wholly dissimilar parts.

[Illustration: THE SHEPHERDS OF THE LANDES.]

To the south of the river lies a rich, undulating, vine-bearing country,
rich in pasturage and harvest, sown with pleasant villages and smiling
country houses, and watered by full streams and little rivers. To the
north, the appearance of the country changes abruptly. When the
traveller has crossed the alluvial zone of the Adour he sees before him
a thin, dry, sandy level of a comparatively recent marine formation. Its
only products are rye, millet, and maize; its only vegetation, forests
of pines and scattered coppices of oaks; beyond these, and they do not
extend far, all cultivation ceases, and the soil is stripped of verdure;
you enter upon the Landes--seemingly vast as a sea--occupied by
permanent or periodical swamps; and where, over a space of several
square leagues, in an horizon apparently boundless, you perceive nothing
but heaths, sheepfolds or steadings for the flocks of sheep that
traverse these deserts, and shepherds keeping mute watch over their
animals, living wholly among them, and having no intercourse with the
rest of humanity, except when once a week they seek their masters'
houses to procure their supply of provisions. It is these shepherds only
(_Landescots_ and _Aouillys_), and not, as is generally supposed, all
the peasants of the Landes, who are perched upon stilts, so as to survey
from afar their wandering flocks, and to traverse more safely the
marshes which frequently lie across their path.

Wild and uncouth are the figures which these stilt-walkers present, as
they move rapidly over the country, often at the rate of six or seven
miles an hour; occasionally indulging in an interval of rest, by the aid
of a third wooden support at the back (curved at the top, so as to fit
the hollow of the body), while they pursue their favourite pastime of
knitting. The dress of the Landescot is singularly rude. His coat or
paletôt is a fleece; cuisses and greaves of the same material protect
his legs and thighs; his feet are thrust into sabots and coarse woollen
socks, which cover only the heels and instep. Over his shoulder hangs
the gourd which contains his week's store of provisions: some mouldy
rye-bread, a few sardines, some onions and cloves of garlic, and a flask
of thin sour wine. From sunrise to sunset he lives upon the stilts,
never touching the ground. Sometimes he drives his flock home at
eventide; sometimes he bivouacs _sub jove frigido_, under the cold
heaven of night. Unbuckling his stilts, and producing his flint and
steel, he soon kindles a cheery fire of fir-branches, and gathering his
sheepskins round him, composes himself to sleep; his only annoyances
being the musquitoes, and his fears of the evil tricks of wizard or
witch, who may peradventure catch a glimpse of him in the moonlight, as
they ride past on their besom to some unholy gathering or demon-dance.

An English traveller has sketched in vivid colours the landscape of the
Landes. Over all its gloom and barrenness, he remarks, over all its
"blasted heaths," its monotonous pine-woods, its sudden morasses, its
glaring sand-heaps, prevails a strong sense of loneliness, a grandeur
and intensity of desolation, which invests the scene with a sad, solemn
poetry peculiar to itself. Emerging from the black shadows of the
forest, the pilgrim treads a plain, "flat as a billiard-table,"
apparently boundless as the ocean, clad in one unvaried, unbroken garb
of dusky heath. Sometimes stripes and ridges, or great ragged patches of
sand, glisten in the fervid sunshine; sometimes belts of scraggy young
fir trees appear rising from the horizon on the right, and sinking into
it again on the left. Occasionally a brighter shade of green, with
jungles of willows and water weeds, giant rushes, and "clustered marish
mosses," will tell of the "blackened waters" beneath--

    "Hard by a poplar shook alway,
        All silver-green with gnarlèd bark;
        For leagues no other tree doth mark
     The level waste, the rounding gray."[8]

The dwellings which stud this dreary, yet not wholly unpoetic landscape,
are generally mere isolated huts, separated oftentimes by many miles.
Round them spreads a miserable field or two, planted with such crops as
might be expected on a poor soil and from deficient cultivation. The
cottages are mouldering heaps of sod and unhewn and unmortared stones,
clustered round with ragged sheds composed of masses of tangled bushes,
pine-stakes and broad-leaved reeds, beneath which the meagrest looking
cattle conceivable find a precarious shelter.[9]

The Landes are divided into the Little Landes, near Mont-de-Marsan; and
the Great Landes, stretching to the north and west of the department of
which that town is the capital, and uniting uninterruptedly with those
that occupy the vast country situated south of the Gironde. The total
superficial area of these plains is estimated at upwards of 2,400,000
acres, of which two-thirds belong to the department of the Landes, and
the remainder to that of the Gironde.

Yet the reader must not believe this country to be a desert in the
popular acceptation of the word; it has its forests of pines, where the
extraction and preparation of resinous matter are carried on with
considerable activity. It has its small towns, its pretty villages, its
factories, and even its handsome villas. Finally, modern industry has
cut the Landes in two by the Bordeaux railway, which traverses them from
north to south, and bifurcates at Morans to throw off a line to Bayonne,
and another to Tarbes.

In shape, the Great Landes may be compared to an immense rectangular
triangle, having for its base the coast, which, from the mouth of the
Gironde to Bayonne, or for a length of more than sixty leagues, is
almost rectilineal. But they are separated from the sea by a long
parallel chain of lakes and water-courses--a waste of shallow pools--a
labyrinth of gulfs and morasses, and then by the continuous chain of the
Dunes, of which we shall speak in the following chapter.

That which is commonly called the Great Lande is bounded on the north by
the _étang_, or lake, of Cazau. It is a sandy, treeless plain, and upon
which, for a traject of several leagues from east to west, not one
habitation worthy of the name is perceptible until the traveller arrives
at Mimizan, near the southern point of the lake of Aureilhan. This lake
on the south-west pours its waters into the sea. To the north it
communicates, through the canal of St. Eulalie, with the lake of
Biscarosse, which is itself connected with that of Cazau. East of this
chain of lakes lies the Lande; west of it stretches the range of
_Dunes_, or sand-hills.

The lake or pool of Cazau is a small sea of fresh water, perfectly
clear, profoundly deep, and fourteen to fifteen thousand acres in
extent. It has its whirlwinds and its tempests, so that in certain
seasons it is perilous to embark on its surface. And were its banks
clothed with rich woods, or raised aloft in irregular or precipitous
cliffs, it would surely attract as great a throng of tourists as the
mountain-tarns and lochs of Scotland or Cumberland, or the Arcadian
waters of Northern Italy. The lake of Biscarosse, in form a triangle,
with one side formed by the Dunes, covers about twelve thousand acres.
It derives its name from a village situated at its northern angle, on
the bank of the canal which connects it with the lake of Cazau. The lake
of Aureilhan is the smallest of the three; the St. Eulalie canal, which
links it to the preceding, traverses a series of peat-bogs bounded
eastward by gloomy pine-forests, and westward by the interminable Dunes,
which, by arresting the flow of the rain-waters, have really created
these so-called lakes and extensive swamps. Enormous quantities of rain
fall every year in the Landes,--which district the Romans would
certainly have dedicated to Jupiter Pluvius,--and find beneath the thin
superficial stratum or crust of sand and earth, a sub-soil of _tufa_ and
_allios_--in other words, of compact chalk and sand agglutinated by a
ferruginous sediment. Frequently this _tufa_ possesses all the hardness
of stone, and its imperviousness is its fundamental property. Hence it
follows, that a portion of the heavy annual rainfall remains in the
receptacles provided by the hollows and depressions of the soil, and in
due time accumulates into marshes and lagoons, until gradually
evaporated by the heat of spring.

When of old the scared peasants beheld the irresistible advance of these
strange ministers of destruction, they had no other resource than to
fell their woods, abandon their dwellings, and surrender their "little
all" to the pitiless sand and devouring sea. What could avail against
such a scourge? Efforts were made to repel it. It is said that
Charlemagne, during a brief residence in the Landes, on his return from
his expedition against the Saracens, employed his veterans, and expended
large sums of money in preserving the cities of the coast from imminent
ruin; but whether the means employed were insufficient, or whether the
imperial resources failed, and other urgent needs diverted the
population and their leaders from this struggle against nature, the
works were wholly abandoned.

Of late years they have been resumed, and with greater success, by a
skilful agriculturist, M. Desbiey, of Bordeaux, and an able engineer, M.
Bremontier, who have called in nature herself to assist man in his war
against nature. Their system consists of sowing in the driest sand the
seeds of the sea-pine, mixed with those of the broom (_genista
scoparia_), and the _psamma arenaria_. The spaces thus sown are then
closely covered with branches to protect them from the action of the
winds. These seeds germinate spontaneously. The brooms, which spring up
rapidly, restrain the sand, while sheltering the young pines, and
thenceforth the Dune ceases to move, because the wind can no longer
unsettle its substance, and the grains are held together by the roots of
the young plants. The work is always begun on the inland side, in order
to protect the farmer and the peasant, and to withdraw the infant forest
from the unwholesome influence of the ocean-winds. And, in order that
the sown spaces shall not themselves be buried under the sands blown up
from the shore, a palisade of wicker-work is raised at a suitable
distance, which, reinforced by young plants of sandwort (_psamma
arenaria_), check the moving sands for a sufficiently long time to
favour the development of the seeds. Finally, the work is completed by
the construction of a substantial wall, or rather an artificial cliff,
which effectually prevents the further progress of the flood, or directs
it seaward, to be arrested on its course by the barrier of the
sand-hills. Unable to force a passage through these natural ramparts,
they have excavated certain basins, more or less extensive, more or less
deep, which have formed into inland seas, communicating with the
Atlantic by one narrow issue.

It is a noteworthy fact that, owing to the encroachment of the Dunes,
these lakes have been constantly forced back upon the inland country.
Fortunately, this menacing invasion of the sands has been checked by the
great engineering works executed a few years ago; which, on the one
hand, have fixed, and, as it were, solidified the Dunes, and, on the
other, have provided for the regular outflow of the waters. The Landes
have thus been opened to the persevering labours of the cultivator. The
culture of the pine, and the manufacture of resinous substances, have
largely extended, and the time, perhaps, is not far distant when these
deserts will almost completely disappear; when these desolate and
unproductive plains will pleasantly bloom, transformed into shadowy
woods or verdurous meadows.[10]

To so fortunate a result nothing will more powerfully contribute than
the embankment of the Dunes. These have been, in reality, the true
scourge of this country; these were the moving desert, the constantly
ascending sea, which had already engulfed forests, villages, even towns,
under its billows of sand, and driven before it the terrified
inhabitants of the coast.



CHAPTER III.

THE DUNES, OR SAND-HILLS.


The Dunes form the extreme line of the Brittany coast for nearly two
hundred miles, from the Adour to the Garonne. They are hills of white
sand, as fine and soft as if it had been sifted through an hour-glass.
Their outline, therefore, changes every hour. When the wind blows from
the land, millions of tons of sand are hourly driven into the sea, to be
washed up again on the beach and blown inland by the first Biscay gale.
A water hurricane from the west will fill up with sand square miles
of shallow lake, driving the displaced waters into the interior,
dispersing them in shining pools among the "murmurous pines," flooding
and frequently destroying the scattered hamlets of the people, and
inundating their fields of rye and millet.[11]

[Illustration: A FLOOD IN BRITTANY.]

Their origin is due to the prevalence of the sea-winds on those points
of the coast which are not protected by rock and cliff, and whose slopes
of sand descend very gradually to the margin of the waves. Their
formation is easily explained. The sand of which they are composed is a
silicious material, reduced to minute grains, generally rounded, by
trituration. These grains, nevertheless, are often too big and too heavy
for the wind to take them up and scatter them afar, like the dust of the
highways or the ashes of volcanoes. But at low tide the sand, dried by
the sun's rays and the action of the wind, offers to the latter a
sufficient _holdfast_ to be dragged up the slopes which descend seaward,
and deposited at a certain distance. This process being constantly
repeated, the heaps are daily increasing in dimensions.

It will easily be understood that this accumulation along the shore
cannot have taken place where the force and direction of the sands
experience periodical or capricious changes; for then the sands cast
upon the beach by the winds of the north and west would be driven back
into the sea by the winds of the south and east. This is noticeable in
many places where the nature of the coast is favourable for the
production of such a phenomenon. But on other shores--as on the Atlantic
littoral of France--the winds which blow most frequently and most
violently are from the west and south-west. And it is there we encounter
the Dunes. Those of Gascony are by far the most remarkable. Northward,
they extend as far as the Point de Grave, which shuts in the mouth of
the Gironde; southward, to the bank of the Adour, and even further, to
the cliffs of Béarn. Here the basin of Arcachon constitutes one vast
hollow; and some openings exist, moreover, in the department of Landes,
between that basin and the Adour, for the overflow of the waters which
descend from the interior. To the north and south of the Teste de Buch
the chain of sand-hills measures from 4400 to 6600 feet in width. At
other points it is still wider; but it narrows towards its extremities,
and both at the Point de Grave and near Bayonne does not exceed 450
yards.

Owing to their extreme shiftiness of soil, the Dunes can attain no
considerable elevation. The sand deposited by the wind on the summit of
the hill is always in a state of precarious equilibrium. It has a
constant tendency to be precipitated down the other side; and the higher
the summit the greater is this tendency, so that there comes at last a
moment when no further accumulation in height is possible. The Dune may
then extend its basis, may even increase twofold in dimensions, but it
no longer rises.

Let us note, moreover, that owing to its density the sand cannot be
carried even by the most violent winds into the higher regions of the
atmosphere; and that the Dunes, when they have reached a certain
elevation, oppose to them an insuperable obstacle. This circumstance
would consequently have a salutary effect, and the accumulation of sand
would be determined by a law of its own, if the Dunes, once formed, had
time to cohere. But this is not the case. Incessantly does the wind undo
or modify its work; and the loftiest hills being the most exposed to its
violence, are quickly reduced to the common level. In general, the
greatest elevation of the Dunes corresponds to their greatest breadth.
Thus the culminating point of those of Gascony is found in the belt
situated between the lakes of Cazau and Biscarosse, where the chain is
from 7500 to 9000 yards across. Their average height is 180 feet to 200
feet above the sea-level; but some of the hills in the forest of
Biscarosse attain an altitude of 320 feet. In the neighbourhood of the
mouths of the Gironde and the Adour, where the chain is considerably
narrowed, the height of the Dunes is only thirty to forty-five feet.

The reader must not suppose that the Dunes consist of a single series of
sand-hills ranged along the shore. He will, however, have conjectured,
from our statements respecting their width, that they really compose a
chain of several more or less regular ridges. The hills are separated
from one another by valleys, locally named _laites_ or _lettes_. These
valleys, where the pluvial waters flow and accumulate, exhibit a
striking contrast, in their freshly-blooming verdure, to the naked,
barren Dunes. The general aspect of the landscape may, therefore, be
compared to that of the ocean. There is the same broken surface, the
same extent of undulation, the billows of sand being upheaved by the
wind like the billows of the sea, and sharing in their mobility. You
must see, says a writer, in order to form an idea of those colossal
masses of fine sand, which the wind incessantly skims, and which travel
in this way towards the inland country: you must see their contours so
softened that they look like mountains of plaster of Paris polished by
the workman's hand, and their surface so mobile that a little insect
leaves upon it a conspicuous track; their slopes, at every degree of
inclination; their everlasting sterility--not a blade of grass, not an
atom of vegetation; their solitude, less imposing than that of the
mountains, but still of a truly savage character. You must see, from the
summit of one of these ridges, the ocean on your right hand, and on your
left the extensive lakes which border the littoral; and, in the midst of
this tumultuous sea of tawny sand, green grassy valleys, rich and
fertile pastures, smiling oases of verdure, where herds of horses graze,
and cows half-wild, guarded by shepherds scarcely less wild than
they.[12]

The marked characteristic of the Dunes, as we have already said, is
their mobility, which renders them a constant menace for the
neighbouring populations. To the wind which creates them they owe their
frequent changes and their inland movement. While the sea eats into the
coast, assisted by the breezes which gradually sweep clear the ground
before it, the Dunes extend, and drive before them the shallow lakes:
these in their turn encroach upon the Landes, and until now man has been
constrained to recoil, step by step, before his threefold enemy. It is
in this phenomenon, rather than in the ungrateful soil of the Landes,
that we must seek the cause of the curse which has seemed so long to
rest upon this country-side. You must go back some twenty centuries to
trace the origin of the Dunes of Gascony. Fourteen or fifteen hundred
years ago the coast north of the Adour was inhabited, and comparatively
flourishing. Mimizan was then a town and a sea-port, from which were
exported the resinous products of the neighbouring forests. The Normans
disembarked there on several occasions. Under its walls, in 506, was
fought a great battle between the allied Goths and Ostrogoths on the one
side, and the Béarnais, commanded by a bishop of Lescar, on the other.
Both town and port to-day are buried under the sands. "Full fathom five"
lie church and convent, and the busy street, the noisy mart, and the
once peaceful home. The present village has nearly perished: the Dune
was not three yards from the church when its progress was recently
arrested. Other cities, laid down in old charts of the country, but of
which not a trace remains, have in this manner disappeared, and entire
forests have been ingulfed, now under the sands of the Dunes, now under
the sands and waves of the sea.

Some parts of the chain have been rendered to a great extent immovable
by the vegetation which has gradually covered them, and these have
opposed a formidable obstacle to the encroachments of the sands. Yet
here and there the barrier has been defied. For example, in the forest
of Biscarosse the movable Dunes, actually sweeping over the ancient
hills, have not only filled up the valleys, but ingulfed a great number
of pines, and raised themselves several yards above the crest of the
oldest trees, planted on the summit of the highest hills.

In whose favour, in this struggle of science against the elements, will
the victory eventually be decided? The question is one which the future
alone can resolve.[13]



CHAPTER IV.

WILD SCENES OF ENGLAND:--DARTMOOR AND THE FEN COUNTRY.


Crossing the Channel, and surveying the limited expanse of our own
"beloved England," we become aware of certain districts which belong to
the Desert World. Through the ceaseless energy of our race, and the
introduction of mechanical inventions which economize time and labour
and treble the reproductive power of capital, almost all England has
been transformed into a rich and radiant garden, where the waste places
are "few and far between," where the solitude of desolation is scarcely
known; yet, as already observed, there are districts which retain much
of their ancient wildness of character.

Such a region is Dartmoor, the extensive and romantic table-land of
granite which occupies the south-western part of the county of Devon. In
its recesses still linger the eagle, the bustard, and the crane; its
solitudes are broken by the hoarse cries of the sparrow-hawk, the hobby,
and the goshawk; and the Cyclopean memorials of Druidism which cover its
surface--cromlechs and kistvaens, tolmêns and stone-avenues--invest it
with a peculiar air of mysterious awe. It extends in length about
twenty-two miles (from north to south), and in breadth twenty miles
(from east to west). Its total area exceeds 130,000 acres. It rises
above the surrounding country like "the long, rolling waves of a
tempestuous ocean, fixed into solidity by some instantaneous and
powerful impulse." A natural rampart is cast around it. Deep ravines,
watered by murmuring streams, diversify its aspect, and lofty hills of
granite, locally called _tors_, of which the principal, Yes Tor, has an
elevation of 2050 feet above the sea. Its soil is composed of peat, in
some places twenty-five feet deep; underneath which lies a solid mass
of granite, occasionally relieved by trap (a volcanic rock), and
traversed by veins of tin, copper, and manganese.[14]

Nearly in the centre of this dismal wilderness lies an immense morass,
whose surface is in many places incapable of supporting the lightest
animal, and whose inexhaustible reservoirs supply the fountains of many
a river and stream--the Dart, the Teign, the Taw, the Tavy--all clear as
crystal in the summer months, but after heavy rains running redly
through the "stony vales." The roaring of these torrents, when angry and
swollen, is sublime to a degree inconceivable by those who have never
heard the wild impressive music of untamed Nature.

The tors are remarkable for their quaint fantastic outlines, which, like
the clouds, suggest all manner of strange similitudes--to dragons, and
griffins, and hoary ruins, and even to human forms of gigantic size,
apparently confronting the traveller as the lords and natural denizens
of the rugged waste. The principal summits are Yes Tor, Cawsand Beacon,
Fur Tor, Lynx Tor, Rough Tor, Holne Ridge, Brent Tor, Rippen Tor, Hound
Tor, Sheep's Tor, Crockern Tor, and Great Mis Tor. Not only must their
variety of form delight the artist, but his eye rests well pleased on
their manifold changes of colour; purple, and green, and gray, and
blue--now softened by a delicate vaporous shadow, now glowing with
intense fulness in the sun's unclouded light.

Dartmoor is traditionally reputed to have been anciently clothed with
forest. The sole relic now existing is the lonely _Wistman's_ Wood,
which occupies a sombre valley, bounded on the one side by Crockern Tor,
on the other by Little and Great Bairdown; the slopes being strewn with
gray blocks of granite in "admired disorder," as if the Titans had been
at their cumbrous play. Starting from this chaos of rocks, appears a
wood or grove of dwarf weird-looking oaks, interspersed with the
mountain-ash, and everywhere festooned about and garlanded with ferns
and parasitical plants. None of these trees exceed twelve feet in
height, but at the top they spread far and wide, and "branch and twist
in so fantastic and tortuous a manner as to remind one of those strange
things called mandrakes." Their branches are literally covered with ivy
and creeping plants, and their trunks so thickly embedded in a coating
of moss that at first sight, says Mrs. Bray, "you would imagine them to
be of enormous thickness in proportion to their height. Their whole
appearance conveys to you the idea of hoary age in the vegetable world
of creation; and on visiting Wistman's Wood it is impossible to do other
than think of those 'groves in stony places' so often mentioned in
Scripture as being dedicated to Baal and Astaroth."[15]

That heathen rites were celebrated here in the pre-historic era seems
very probable, the best etymologists agreeing that the name is a
corruption of _Wise-man_, or _Wish-man_; that is, of the old Norse god
Woden, who is still supposed to drive his spectral hounds across the
silent wastes of Dartmoor. Celtic or Cymric memorials, as we have
previously hinted, are very abundant and very various. There are
cromlechs, where the Britons buried their dead; stone pillars, with
which they commemorated their priests and heroes; avenues of upright
stones leading up to the circles, where, perhaps, their priests
celebrated their religious rites; kistvaens, or stone-chests, containing
the body unburned; tolmêns, or holed stones, whose meaning cannot be
determined, but which may probably have had some astronomical uses;
bridges, huts, and walled villages, all bearing traces of the handiwork
of our "rude forefathers." There is no spot in England so thronged as
this with the shadows of a remote, a mysterious, and an irrecoverable
past.

       *       *       *       *       *

From Dartmoor our wanderings take us to the eastern coast, and the
district of THE FENS, now so rapidly yielding to the labour of the
agriculturist as to exhibit but rare glimpses of their ancient
"savagery." It extends inland, around an arm of the North Sea called the
Wash, into the six counties of Cambridge, Huntingdon, Lincoln, Norfolk,
Northampton, and Suffolk, with an area of upwards of 420,000 acres.
Inland it is bounded by an amphitheatral barrier of high lands, and
touches the towns of Bolingbroke, Brandon, Earith, Milton, and
Peterborough. Into this great basin flow the waters of the greater part
of the drainage of nine counties, which gather into the rivers Cam,
Glen, Lark, Nene, Great and Little Ouse, Stoke, and Welland, these being
linked together by a network of natural and artificial canals.

Anciently, the Fens were pleasant to the eye of the lover of the
picturesque; for they contained shining meres and golden reed-beds,
haunted by countless water-fowl, and strange, gaudy insects. "Dark-green
alders," says Kingsley,[16] "and pale-green reeds stretched for miles
round the broad lagoon, where the coot clanked and the bittern boomed,
and the sedge-bird, not content with its own sweet song, mocked the
notes of all the birds around; while high overhead hung hawk beyond
hawk, buzzard beyond buzzard, kite beyond kite, as far as eye could
see." What strange transformations must this wild region have undergone!
There was a time, in all probability, when a great part of the German
Ocean was dry land, through which, into a vast estuary between North
Britain and Norway, flowed together all the rivers of North-eastern
Europe--Elbe, Weser, Rhine, Scheldt, Seine, Thames, and all the rivers
of east England, as far north as the Humber. Meanwhile, the valleys of
the Cam, the Ouse, the Nene, the Welland, the Glen, and the Witham, were
slowly "sawing themselves out" by the quiet action of rain and rivers.
Then came an age when the lowland was swept away by the biting,
corroding sea-wash still so powerfully destructive on the east coast of
England, as far as Flamborough Head. "Wave and tide by sea, rain and
river by land; these are God's mighty mills in which he makes the old
world new." And as Longfellow says of moral things, so may we of
physical,--

  "'Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;
   Though he sit and wait with patience, with exactness grinds he all.'"

These ever-active causes have converted the dry land into the fens. The
mud brought down by the rivers cannot get away to sea; and, with the
_débris_ of the coast, is constantly swept southward by tide and
current, and deposited within the great curving basin of the Wash,
between Lincolnshire and Norfolk. There it is kept by the strong barrier
of shifting sands coming inwards from the sea; a barrier which also
confines the very water of the fens, and spreads it inland into a
labyrinth of streams, shallow meres, and bogs. The rainfall, over the
whole vast area of dull level, has found no adequate channels of escape
for centuries; and hence we may understand how peat--the certain product
of standing water--has slowly overwhelmed the rich alluvium, and
swallowed up gradually the stately forests of fir and oak, ash and
poplar, hazel and yew, which once spread far and wide over the blooming
country.

    "Many a green isle needs must be
     In the deep wide sea of misery,"

sings Shelley; and this dreary outcome of mudbank and bog and mere had
its wooded isles, very fair and lovely to behold, redeeming the
desolation of the landscape. Such were Ramsey, Lindsey, Whittlesea,
whose names remind us of their whilome characteristics (_ea_, _ey_, an
island). In these green places the old monks loved to build their quiet
abbeys, rearing their herds in rich pastures, feeding fat fish in their
tranquil streams, and dreaming in the shadow of green alder and stately
ash.

But these Eden-isles were few, and the surrounding marsh was black and
dismal enough to scare the boldest spirit, and pestilential enough to
sap and undermine the strongest frame. The Romans had attempted to drain
and embank it, and their _vallum_ may still be tracked along the surface
of the marsh-lands, marked to this day by the names of Walsoken, Walton,
and Walpoole. In the Middle Ages, however, it returned to its primeval
desolateness--a waste and wilderness, haunted by the foul legends of an
unwholesome superstition. In the immediate neighbourhood of the great
monasteries of Crowland and Ely, and of the thriving towns, the good
work of drainage went on slowly; but elsewhere the land was given up to
the bittern and the heron.

No comprehensive scheme was adopted, however, until Russel, Earl of
Bedford, cut the great Bedford River, twenty-one miles long, and rescued
from the desert the rich tract known by his name--the Bedford Level.

                                    "Erst
    A dreary pathless waste, the coughing flock
    Was wont with hairy fleeces to deform;
    And, smiling with its lure of summer flowers,
    The heavy ox, vain struggling, to ingulf;
    Till one, of that high-honoured patriot name,
    Russel, arose, who drained the rushy fen,
    Confined the waves, bade groves and gardens bloom,
    And through his new creation led the Ouse
    And gentle Camus, silver-winding streams."[17]

The work was continued by William Earl of Bedford, who added, in 1649,
to his father's old "Bedford River" that noble parallel river the
Hundred Foot, both rising high above the land to allow for flood water.
It was carried on at a later period under the direction of Government
surveyors. Then came Rennie, the great engineer, whose operations
effectually shut out the desert, and handed over to the agriculturist
nearly the whole level of the Fens, some seventy miles in length. Works
are now in progress for rescuing a further portion of the basin of the
Wash, to be formed into a new county, and named after the Queen. So that
now, in tracts once covered by the sea, or knee-deep in reedy, slushy,
pestilential slime, the grass grows luxuriantly, the crops wave in
golden abundance, or the breeze takes up and carries afar--

                              "The livelong bleat
    Of the thick-fleecèd sheep from wattled folds."

But the dominion of labour has not yet been established over the whole
Fen-district. There are still dreary nooks, and gloomy corners, and
unproductive wastes; wild scenes there are, which few Englishmen have
any conception of as contained within the boundaries of their own
"inviolate isle." Romantic scenery, remarks Mr. Walter White, must not
be looked for on the Lincolnshire coast. In all the journey from the
Wash till you see the land of Yorkshire, beyond the Humber, not an inch
of cliff will your eyes discover. Monotonous is the prospect of--

    "A level waste, a rounding gray"

of sand-hills, which vary but slightly in height, and bristle with
_marum_. "But tame though it be," continues our authority,[18] "the
scene derives interest from its peculiarity. Strange perspective effects
appear in those irregular hills: yonder they run out and form a low
dark, purple headland, against which the pale green and yellow of a
nearer tongue look bright by contrast. Here for a few furlongs the range
rises gray, cold, and monotonous; there it has a warmth of colour
relieved by deep shadows, that change their tint during the hours that
accompany the sun while he begins and ends his day. Sitting on the
summit of those dry hills, you will remark the contrasted landscape: on
the one side, the level pasture land, league after league of grassy
green, sprinkled with villages, farms, churches, and schools, where work
and worship will find exercise through ages yet to come; on the other,
league after league of tawny sand, sloping gently outwards to meet the
great sea that ever foams or ripples thereupon. On the one hand, a
living scene bounded by the distant wolds; on the other, a desert, sea
and shore alike solitary, bounded only by the overarching sky. More
thoughts come crowding into the mind in presence of such a scene than
are easy to express."



CHAPTER V.

THE STEPPES:--THE DESERT IN RUSSIA, SIBERIA, AND TARTARY.


Hitherto we have only been speaking of miniature deserts, of the more
limited of the world's wildernesses, where some degree of victory seems
to reward man's arduous struggle with nature. Those which we have
hitherto described are open to the "breath of civilization." The pilgrim
who visits them incurs no danger; he has nothing to dread from beasts of
prey; the men he meets with obey the same general laws as himself; he is
carried into their furthest recesses by the all-embracing railroad. He
sees on every hand the efforts of science to confine the desert within
ever narrower boundaries; to reclaim the moor, and the fen, and the
sandy waste; to reap from the once barren soil an abundant harvest. But
if he pass from England or France to Germany, and thence across the
provinces of unhappy Poland, he will find himself daily advancing into a
country of more and more savage aspect. He will observe that vegetation
loses its happy variety; that the cultivated fields become scarcer; the
morass and forest more frequent, and of greater extent; the population
poorer, more squalid, and less numerous. Wide and dreary intervals
separate the different towns; here and there, surrounded by gloomy
woods, are scattered the melancholy-looking villages. Travelling becomes
difficult, for the roads are ill-kept; he has left behind him the modern
magician, the engineer; wild wolves haunt his path; and he has good
cause to fear the robber's knife. Civilization here has left barbarism
for centuries to itself; we are approaching the great Deserts, the
Steppes of Northern Asia.

The Steppes commence near the thirty-fifth degree of longitude, east of
the Dnieper, as soon as we quit the fertile plains of the Ukraine to
enter the country of the Don Cossacks. They are the characteristic
feature of the immense zone which starts from the north-eastern shore
of the Sea of Azov, stretches to the foot of Caucasus, between the Black
and Caspian Seas, and is thence prolonged beyond the Ural range, to the
north and south of the metaliferous Altaï; but mainly between the latter
and the Thian-Shian mountains, to the seas of Okhotsk and Jesso.

The word _Steppe_, supposed to be of Tartar origin, primarily signifies
an uncultivated plain, a prairie.

The Steppes, in short, are ordinarily plains of very considerable extent
interrupted at intervals by chains of hills or mountains; but, on the
whole, of a level, monotonous character, and with a considerable part
below the level of the ocean. Their area may be roughly computed at
4,200,000 square miles.

Occasionally, in traversing them, we meet with lakes or brackish ponds,
with forests of pines, even with patches of cultivated ground. Sometimes
they form lofty and extensive plateaux, as in the case of the plateau of
Gobi, also called, but most inappropriately, _Scha-mo_, or the Sandy
Desert, and _Scha-ho_, or the Sandy River.

The Gobi begins upon the confines of Chinese Tartary, and thence extends
over thousands of leagues in a vast expanse of sterile wilderness
towards the coast of the Pacific. It chiefly consists of bare rock,
shingle, and loose sand, alternating with firm sand, sparsely clothed
with vegetation. But a large portion of the country, though not less
leafless and monotonous, assumes in the spring season the appearance of
an undulating ocean of grass, supplying pasturage to the flocks and
herds of the Mongolian nomades, who wander at will over its vast prairie
grounds, and encamp wherever they find a stream of water or sheltering
crag. The general elevation above the sea is probably not less than 3500
feet. The Gobi was crossed by Mr. Grant, in 1863, and, soon afterwards,
by Mr. Bishop, a correspondent of the _Times_.

Though their general aspect is chill and dreary, the Steppes are not
without their romantic landscapes, and their vegetation is more varied
as well as more abundant than is generally believed. You may find among
them wide meads with a soil of sufficient fertility to produce corn in
great quantities, although too thin to permit the development of plants
which have need of a certain depth. "The most agreeable portion of these
plains," says Humboldt, "is adorned with small shrubs of the family
_Rosaceæ_, tulips, and the _cypripedium_. Just as the Torrid Zone is
distinguished by the tendency of all its plants to become trees, so some
of the Asiatic Steppes in the Temperate Zones have the peculiar
characteristic that all their flowering herbaceous plants attain to a
remarkable height, such as the _Saussurea_ and other synantheraceæ, the
leguminous shrubs, and, above all, an infinite variety of astragals. If
the traveller attempts to go forward, in the small Tartar chariots,
across these pathless, trackless prairies, he must keep standing, to
ascertain his direction, and he will see the plants, interlaced as in a
dense forest, bend before his wheels. Some of these Steppes are grassy
plains; others are covered with saline plants, fleshy, articulated, and
always green. Often, too, one sees afar the glitter of saline
efflorescence, like lichens, spreading unevenly over the glassy soil,
like newly-fallen snow."[19]

Comparing the Asiatic Steppes with the Pampas of South America, Humboldt
does not hesitate to declare that the former are far the richer. "In
that part of the Steppes, inhabited by the Kirghiz and the Kalmucks,
which I have traversed," he says, "that is to say, from the Don, the
Caspian Sea, and the Oural (Jaïk), to the Obi and the Upper Irtysh, near
Lake Dsaisang, over a space of forty degrees of longitude, one can never
discover, even at the most distant limit, a phenomenon frequent in the
Llanos, the Pampas, and the Prairies of America; that horizon vague and
boundless as the sea, which seems to support the vault of heaven. Seldom
in Asia was the spectacle offered me of even a single side of the
horizon. The Steppes are traversed by numerous chains of hills, or
covered with forests of conifers. The vegetation of Asia, even in the
richest pasturage, is nowhere confined to the families of the
_Cyperaceæ_. A great variety prevails there of herbaceous or frutescent
plants. In the spring season, small rosaceæ and amygdalaceæ, with rosy
or snow-white blossoms--Spiræa, cratægus, prunus spinosa, amygdalus
nana--present a graceful appearance. I have elsewhere spoken," he adds,
"of the vigorous growth of Synanthers, such as _Suassurea amara_ and
_salsa_, the _artemisias_ and blue _centaureas_, which grow profusely in
these deserts, and the leguminosæ, which are there represented by
different species of astragal, cytisus, and _caragana_. The fritillaria
ruthenica, meleagroides, cypripedium, and tulip, delight the eye with
the brilliance of their colours."[20]

This almost exclusively herbaceous, but abundant and various, vegetation
of which Humboldt speaks, is conspicuous in the spring, in the least
favoured Steppes, after the rainy season. But it is there of a brief
life. In the month of June the heat grows intense, and the dryness
excessive. Then every herb perishes, cut down by the sun's keen-smiting
rays, like the Greeks before Troy by the arrows of Apollo.

    "Bent was his bow, the Grecian hearts to wound;
     Fierce as he moved, his silver shafts resound."[21]

The dust is whirled off the ground by the wind, and swept about in
revolving tornados. The Steppes situated in a comparatively low latitude
thus alternately assume the most discordant aspects. In winter the heavy
rains inundate them, and transform them into impracticable marshes;
spring clothes them with a thick carpet of grasses and other herbaceous
plants, so that they reveal to the eye leagues upon leagues of
delightful sward cropped by numerous flocks. In summer they undergo a
third metamorphosis, and are converted into parched and sun-scathed
deserts like those of Nubia or Arabia.

These periodical transformations are especially remarkable in the
Steppes of the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, and the Caspian Sea; where
winter comes attended with abundant snows and terrific tempests. No
obstacle can arrest the fury of the gale, which accumulates the driven
snow in fearful avalanches, and like the demon in the old German
legend, drives before it the wild horses in an access of violence. Half
frozen by the cold, and exhausted with hunger, they fly in a complete
panic. Oftentimes their giddy headlong course carries them forward upon
the crust of ice which gathers over the waters close to the shore; it
cracks, it breaks, and hundreds perish! The melting snow and heavy rains
at the end of winter drown the plains under vast sheets of water, which,
however, quickly evaporate in the first rays of the sun. Rain, in
summer, is extremely rare, and as there are neither brooks nor springs
to refresh the thin layer of earth in which the herbs and shrubs take
root, all these plants enjoy only a butterfly existence; they bloom,
they fade, they die, with startling rapidity.

The hurricanes are neither less numerous nor less furious in the hot
than in the cold season; dust, however, takes the place of snow, when,
as is sometimes the case, no tremendous deluge of rain follows in the
track of the mighty wind. To sum up: the spring and summer of the
Steppes are compressed (so to speak) into two months; all the rest of
the year seems given over to desolation. Two months in the year of
bloom, and sunshine, and colour, and beauty, are all that Nature grants
the wandering Mongolian.

Such being the general configuration of the Steppes, one may easily
imagine how stern and gloomy is the aspect of these immense plains, with
no other interruptions of the soil than their tumuli, no other boundary
than the sea. He who has not been habituated from youth to their
monotony finds himself wholly unable to struggle against its depressing
influence. Their dismal solitudes are in truth an immeasurable prison,
where he wanders to and fro without hope of escape. In vain does he
interrogate the north and south, the east and the west; in vain does he
turn from one side to the other; it is always the same uniformity, the
same immovability, the same solitude.[22]



CHAPTER VI.

ANIMAL LIFE IN THE STEPPES:--THE WILD HORSE--THE CAMEL.


Reference has been made to the numerous troops of wild horse which haunt
the Steppes on this side of the Oural. Similar troops of these animals
wander over the whole extent of the Steppes of Central Asia, which the
most accredited modern naturalists repute to be the original cradle of
their race.

[Illustration: THE TARPAN, OR WILD HORSE.]

These horses are called _tarpans_, a word undoubtedly derived from the
Tartar. Shall we look upon them as the representatives of the primitive
breed, whence have sprung all the varieties known at the present day; or
shall we see in them, as well as in the wandering horses of the prairies
and pampas of the New World, the descendants of individuals which had
escaped from the thraldom of man? This latter hypothesis seems to be the
most probable. But there is good ground for believing that, living a
wild life, these animals are gradually returning to the primitive type.
They have lost the harmonious graces of form, the beauty, and the vigour
which we admire in the high-bred steed, perfected by the assiduous care
of man. There seems as great a difference between the Arabian horse and
the wild horse of the Steppes as between the accomplished European
gentleman and a Malagasy savage. They are of small stature; their limbs
are lank; their coat is coarse, woolly, rude, and rough. With the
tarpans of the northern Steppes it is thick, flaky, and frizzled. Their
mouth and nostrils are garnished with long hair, not unlike a goat.
Their colour is generally brown, of the shade called _Isabelle_, after a
certain Queen of France who, in fulfilment of a vow, wore her linen
unchanged for a considerable period. A few are black or white. They have
a large head, with the forehead projecting above the eyes; a straight
chamfer; and long ears, customarily laid back close to the head.

The troops of the tarpans are subdivided into groups of twenty to thirty
individuals, each group usually living apart, and only uniting in a
compact phalanx when a common danger threatens, or a necessity arises of
migrating from one region to another. The gaunt grim wolves, which
hunger drives from their neighbouring forests; and man, who hunts them
hotly, either to reduce them into subjection, or kill them for their
flesh, are almost the only enemies they have any reason to dread. The
warlike nomade tribes of the Black and Caspian coasts, and of Central
Asia, have no other breeding-grounds than the steppe which they inhabit.
Thither come Cossack, and Mongol, and Kirghis, and Kalmuck, to choose
their chargers. They catch them by means of a lasso, which they throw
with surprising dexterity, and in a few days train them into a suitable
docility. When in want of their hide or flesh, the nomades hunt them
with gun, arrow, or spear; for hippophagy, which a few zealous amateurs
are now endeavouring to popularize in France and England, has been
practised from time immemorial by the inhabitants of the Steppes.

[Illustration: WILD HORSES TERRIFIED BY A STORM.]

These barbarians, however, respect the life of their domestic animals,
or sacrifice them only in cases of pressing need. They treat them also
with a gentleness unknown to our European grooms and horse-dealers. With
them, as with the Arabs, the horse is a friend rather than a slave; he
is, in truth, one of the family; and it is with great difficulty that
his master consents to part with him. Our travellers describe the
Tartar, Mongol, and Kirghiz horsemen as realizing the celebrated fable
of the Centaurs,--as becoming, so to speak, one with their horses. The
exigencies of their wandering life require that they should be
constantly on horseback; it is almost their home, their abode, their
dwelling-place; there they are mounted day and night; there they sleep,
prepare their food, and take their repasts. True that their cooking is
of the rudest and simplest, and their taste not so fastidious as that of
an European epicure! If, for example, they would make ready a piece of
meat, they insert it between the saddle and the horse's skin, and in
this impromptu oven leave it for a few hours, while it undergoes the
processes of heat, pressure, and frequent friction, serving in some
degree to cook it; then a pinch of salt for seasoning; and lo! a dainty
titbit which our cavalier devours with the best appetite in the world.

But it is to the inhabitants of the Steppes of the Black and Caspian
Seas that the horse renders the most estimable services. To make use of
a phrase of Buffon's, "He shares with them the fatigue of war and the
glory of battle;" he provides them with the best and swiftest means of
transit; he nourishes them with his flesh, and the mare quenches their
thirst with her milk. In _their_ dairies mares take the place of our
European milch-cows, and are regularly milked once or twice a-day. The
milk, warm, is employed as a medicine. It is thicker and more saccharine
than that of ruminating animals, and this, undoubtedly, is the reason
that the Cossacks, Tartars, and Kalmucks have succeeded, by
fermentation, in distilling alcohol from it, and procuring vinegar by
acetifying it. They prepare with it an intoxicating liquor (_koumis_),
to which they are very partial, and with which the wealthiest among them
consider it an honour to be largely provided.

By the side of the horse, we naturally place his humble congener and
compatriot, the _Ass_.

Nor need we be ashamed to devote a few lines to this useful animal,
though civilization has appointed to it a very different lot from that
of the horse.

While man has devoted his utmost efforts to ennoble, as it were, and
aggrandize the latter, to perfect his capabilities, develop his
qualities, embellish and vary his form, for the former he has had
nothing but contempt and harsh treatment. He has made the horse the
companion of his campaigns, the minister to his sumptuous pleasures, the
instrument of his grandest labours. He has dismissed the poor ass to the
fields to carry the heaviest burdens, to share in the toil and privation
of the peasant. In these different conditions, who will wonder that
while the horse has become a strong, graceful, and proud-spirited
animal, the ass, on the other hand, remains bowed and bent, with a rough
coarse hide, lanky limbs, a heavy head,--always drooping, as if under
the weight of continual lassitude and unconquerable melancholy,--and
long ungraceful ears, which give his physiognomy an air of ridicule.
Everything in him bears the impress of degradation. How has he merited
so obscure a destiny? Alas, he is the victim of an iniquitous caprice of
man. For see him in his natural condition; contrast with the well-worn
servant of civilization the _Onagra_,[23] the free wild ass of the
Steppes, with the Tarpan, and the parallel will be wholly to the
advantage of the former. The onagra is at least of the same size; his
ears are short; he carries aloft a well-proportioned head; his skin, of
a handsome gray or yellowish-brown, is sleek and shining; his limbs are
long, delicate, and nervous. He lives in very numerous troops, and
migrates from north to south, and south to north, according to the
season. The Tartars employ him as a beast of transport and the saddle
rather than as a beast of burden. They eat his flesh, preferring it to
that of the wild horse. Even the domestic ass of the East differs
notably from the slow, dogged, ill-used animal of European notoriety.
Under a more favourable climate, and in the free life of the desert, he
has preserved his tall stature, his vigour, and the haughtiness of his
bearing. The wealthiest and most distinguished personages do not disdain
to mount him or harness him to their carriage. He has a keen eye, a
quick scent, a sure foot, a mild and resolute aspect. He accomplishes
with ease from six to eight miles an hour; and, lastly--a fact worthy of
notice--his life, which with us seldom exceeds fifteen years, in Asia is
frequently prolonged to thirty or thirty-five. He is less subject to
sickness than the horse, and he almost equals the camel in sobriety,
docility, and endurance of hunger and fatigue.

[Illustration: ONAGRA, OR WILD ASS.]

Whether the Tartars and Kalmucks, who use mares' milk as a medicine,
attribute, as we do, certain therapeutical virtues to the milk of the
ass, we are unable to say; but it is certain that this milk forms a
portion of their daily food. On account of the strong proportion of
saccharine _serum_ which it contains, it is well adapted for the
preparation of the fermented drink already spoken of, known to the
Tartars under the name of _Koumis_ or _Kamuis_. Mr. Atkinson speaks of
the large leathern _koumis_ sack or bottle, as an important piece of
Mongolian furniture. One which he saw was five feet eight inches long,
and four feet five inches wide, with a leathern tube at the corner about
four inches in diameter, through which the milk is poured into the bag,
and the _koumis_ drawn out. A wooden instrument is introduced into this
bag, its handle passing through the tube, not unlike a churning staff;
with this the _koumis_ is frequently agitated. The Kirghiz begin making
it in April, and its due agitation and fermentation occupy about
fourteen days.[24]

       *       *       *       *       *

The horse, and a few flocks of sheep and herds of horned cattle, amply
suffice for the wants of the warlike tribes in the south of Asiatic
Russia. These tribes have almost entirely abandoned the use of the
camel. But as we advance eastward, we find these gigantic and mis-shapen
ruminants in great numbers, the faithful companions and indispensable
auxiliaries of the nomades of the East. They wander freely about the
Steppes, in troops of several hundreds, browzing indifferently on the
grass of the wide pastures or the foliage of the bushes. They are
without fierceness, and the traveller who intrudes upon their immense
domains seems only to inspire in them a benevolent curiosity. "It is
impossible to describe," says Madame Hommaire de Hell, "the astonishment
they exhibited as we passed them. As soon as they caught sight of us,
they ran with all speed towards us, and then stood motionless, with
heads turned towards our cavalcade, until we had got to such a distance
as to be no longer distinguishable."

"Gold and silk," says Buffon, "are not the true wealth of Asia. The
_camel_ is the treasure of the East." It is a fact that this animal is
wonderfully adapted to supply the wants of the desert races. It may be
said to supply them with every object of primary necessity; food,
clothing, and even habitation, fire, and the means of transport.

The flesh of the young camel, though inferior to beef or mutton, is
savoury and easy of digestion; the she-camel yields an abundance of milk
as substantial and agreeable to the taste as that of the cow. The
camel's skin is, it is true, a coarse wool, but long, tenacious, and
readily wrought. The Mongols make it into tissues and cord. Out of the
tissues they weave their clothing, coverings, and tents; with the cord,
which is of various thicknesses, they fabricate the harness of their
horses and other objects of equipment. Camel-leather is not inferior in
suppleness and solidity to that which we make use of in Europe. The dung
of these animals, dried in the sun, serves as fuel not only for cooking
food, but even for working metals. Finally, as a beast of burden, the
camel surpasses every other in strength, swiftness, endurance of
fatigue, and, above all, in that proverbial sobriety which enables him
to accomplish a journey of several successive days without taking either
food or drink. From nature he has received a special organization, which
well justifies his Arab name of "the ship of the desert." It consists
essentially in the structure of his feet, in that of his stomach, and in
the species of hunch or hump which he carries on his back.

We know, in the first place, that the camel's foot does not resemble
that of other ruminants; it is bifurcated, but the two toes, very strong
and much elongated, are furnished not with a hoof, but with a short
nail, adhering only to the final phalange; they are, moreover,
_palmated_; that is to say, reunited near the extremity by a carneous
membrane, which is supplied underneath with a veritable thick and horny
_sole_. The foot can thus plant itself on a wide surface, and seems
expressly adapted to the shifting sandy soil which the camel usually
traverses.

As for the stomach, beside the four compartments into which the stomach
of all ruminants is divided, we notice, on the sides of the paunch, a
mass of cubic cells, or partitions, always containing a quantity of
tolerably pure water, very drinkable, and kept as a kind of reserve
supply; so that more than one traveller, when crossing the desert, and
perceiving neither fountain, well, nor stream in which to quench his
devouring thirst, has preserved his life at the expense of that of his
camel, by killing the poor animal, and opening his reservoir to drink
its contents.

[Illustration: BACTRIAN CAMEL.]

The hump, of which the Arabian camel, or dromedary, has but one, while
the Bactrian, or camel properly so called, has two, is, in truth, "a
storehouse of solid nutriment, on which he can draw for supplies long
after every digestible part has been extracted from the contents of the
stomach: this storehouse consists of one or two large collections of fat
stored up in ligamentous cells supported by the spines of the dorsal
vertebræ. When the camel is in a region of fertility, the hump becomes
plump and expanded; but after a protracted journey in the wilderness it
becomes shrivelled and reduced to its ligamentous constituent, in
consequence of the absorption of the fat."[25]

To be deprived of drink for from eight to ten days is no hardship to the
camel. Accredited authorities testify that without any serious
inconvenience he can go without drink for twenty-three and even
twenty-five days. In the way of solid food, a ball of cake weighing from
a pound to a pound and a quarter, will suffice him for a whole day.
Often when he has set out on his journey fasting, he contents himself
with browsing on the way a few green or dry bushes, and in the evening
sups on a handful of dried beans. But this singular abstemiousness is
not his sole good quality; his vigour, his docility, his swiftness
render him equally valuable.

The ordinary burden of a small camel is from 600 to 800 lbs.; a large
camel will carry 1000 lbs. or upwards, from thirty to thirty-five miles
a-day; but the _maharis_, or those which are used for speed alone, will
travel daily from twenty to thirty leagues.

The camel of the Steppes, in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, is, as I
have already hinted, the Bactrian or camel strictly so called. This
animal differs from his African congener in several very important
physical characteristics, and perhaps also in some moral peculiarities.
His two humps are smaller than the one hump of the dromedary. He is a
little larger than the latter; his average stature is from six feet and
a half to seven feet. His hair, of a deep chestnut brown, almost woolly
on the humps, the head, and the upper part of the neck, is short and
smooth on the body, and hangs in long fringes below the neck and around
the fore-legs. He endures without inconvenience the most opposite
temperatures, great heat and extreme cold, so that his habitat naturally
ranges over an immense extent of country. He is found throughout the
zone of the Steppes, even to the confines of Siberia, on the borders of
Lake Baïkal; he was formerly still more common in Hindostan, but has now
almost disappeared, owing to the great consumption entailed by the
military expeditions of our East Indian Government.

The camel is an excellent traveller, but his gait is rough and awkward,
and almost insupportable by those who have not been long habituated to
it. In this relation we may borrow an anecdote from Madame Hommaire de
Hell:[26] Her dragoman, a Frenchman, named Antoine, curious to essay
this new species of equestrian practice, begged a Kalmuck in the escort
to lend him his camel. The request being readily granted, he perched
himself on the extremity of the saddle, in "measureless contentment"
with his lofty post, and by no means mindful of the malicious smiles
exchanged between the Cossacks and the camel-drivers. Scarcely had the
beast advanced four paces, however, before his face turned pale, and he
clung to the saddle, with a most pitiful countenance, and imploring help
in the most agonizing tones. "One need be a Kalmuck," says Madame de
Hell, "to be capable of enduring the trot of a camel. His jerky gait
shakes the body so severely, that a long journey is a positive
punishment, even for the Cossacks. The unfortunate Antonio, left some
distance behind by the escort, made a vain effort to overtake us; he was
compelled, willy-nilly, to retain his steed as far as the Caspian Sea,
where he arrived about two hours after ourselves. I have never seen a
man more _demoralized_. His groans, when he was lifted off the camel,
were so lamentable, that we really hardly knew what to think of his
condition."

As for the camel's moral qualities, the same lively writer furnishes a
very different estimate to what we gather from the majority of
travellers. She represents him as idle, pettish, and very vindictive.

"All that we had read," says she, "of the rapidity of these ships of the
desert; their insensibility to fatigue, to hunger, to thirst; their
tractability to the will of man exceeding the obedience of the leaf to
the wind, was completely contradicted by the conduct of these
quadrupeds, little careful to maintain their reputation for agility.
Despite of a stout cord passed through one of the nostrils, and which
caused them a sharp pain every time they became refractory, they would
not march more than two successive hours without flinging themselves on
the ground. We had to battle with them incessantly to rouse them from
their torpor, and prevent them from biting one another. Whenever a
camel-driver pulled a little roughly his animal's guiding-string, we
heard a succession of cries, all the more frightful from their
resemblance to the human voice. In a word, these camels behaved so ill
during their short journey, that we entirely lost the good opinion our
great naturalist (Buffon) had given us of their species, in descriptions
more poetical than true."

Notwithstanding Antoine's discouraging experience of camel-riding,
Madame de Hell, a few days afterwards, essayed the same experiment, with
the result that, like her poor dragoman, she made a vow never to repeat
it. Somewhat later, she had an opportunity of witnessing a very curious
illustration--and one very amusing to the lookers-on--of the natural
vindictiveness of these rough steeds. We give the adventure in her own
words:--

"Everybody knows that the camel possesses the faculty of ruminating the
food already stored in one of his stomachs, and that he willingly enough
grants himself this pleasure when he has nothing to eat; but it is not
generally known, perhaps, that he possesses sufficient malice to make,
when an opportunity arises, this prerogative a means of vengeance.

"I had noticed in the morning that one of our camel-drivers appeared on
bad terms with his beast. He vainly tried to master him by punishment,
pulling with all his might the cord which passed through the animal's
nostril; the latter was obstinate, and threw himself every moment on the
ground, a proof of rebellion. The Kalmuck, irritated by the struggle,
profited by a halt to dismount, and inflict severe chastisement on the
recalcitrant; but the camel, disdainfully raising his long neck,
followed with so malicious an eye all his tyrant's movements, that
without doubt he was revolving some project of revenge in his head. And
so it happened that he quietly waited until the Kalmuck stood opposite
to him; then, opening his great mouth, he ejected full in the
camel-driver's face a double volley of masticated herbs, mixed with
slaver and all sorts of filthiness. It would be impossible to describe
the air of satisfied vengeance with which the camel raised his neck, and
moved his head from one side to another, as if in quest of applause.
What astonished me most in this affair was his master's moderation after
undergoing such an outrage. He wiped himself coolly, remounted his
saddle, and caressed the neck of the ill-bred animal, as if he had
received the most flattering compliment. A good understanding being thus
strangely re-established, they went on their way peaceably, without
giving another thought to what had taken place."



CHAPTER VII.

THE ANIMAL LIFE OF THE STEPPES:--WILD RUMINATING
ANIMALS--RODENTS--CARNIVORA--BIRDS.


Besides those species of which we have just spoken, and which man has
subjugated to his service, the Steppes nourish a host of other animals
which seem for ever destined to a savage life. Some are spread through
the entire zone of the Steppes, and include representatives of the
genera or species belonging to the temperate latitudes of Europe. But
most of them are circumscribed in more or less limited habitats, out of
which they would not meet with the conditions of climate or provision
that are essential to their existence.

The mammalia which are found in the plains of Eastern Europe and Central
Asia belong principally to the orders of _Ruminants_,[27] _Rodents_, and
_Carnaria_.

Cuvier divides the ruminants into two great sections: one comprising the
ruminants without horns (genera, _camel_, _lama_, and _chevrotain_); and
the other, those _with_ horns. The latter he again divides into
ruminants with decaying or wooden horns (these are the _cervidæ_ of the
new nomenclature), ruminants with membraneous horns (as the giraffes),
and ruminants with hollow horns (oxen, goats, antelopes, sheep).

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE ELAND (_Antilope oreas_).]

The section of Ruminants without horns is represented in the Steppes by
the camel. Of the three groups of horned ruminants, one only is wanting
in this region of the Old Continent--namely, that of the ruminants with
membranous horns; but we meet there with varieties of all the species
included among the cervidæ, except the reindeer, which is confined to
the glacial countries of both continents. The common European stag is
found on this side of the Oural, in the Steppes bordering on the
forests, where he prefers to seek an asylum. The _ahu_, or roebuck of
Tartary, inhabits the valleys and plains which stretch to the north of
the Himalaya and along the chain of the Thian-Chan. Deer wander in
troops, or in isolated couples, in all the temperate and fertile
portions of the zone of the Steppes, and the eland is spread over all
Asia between the 45th and 41st degree of latitude. The latter is the
largest of all the cervidæ. It ordinarily attains, and sometimes
exceeds, the stature of the horse. His antlers, spread out
perpendicularly to the axis of his head, take at first a nearly
horizontal direction, then spring upwards in an abrupt curve. At their
extremity they terminate in a broad palm, set with sharp snags around
its outer edge. Their weight, for adults, averages from fifty-five to
sixty-five pounds. The eland has a short robust neck, which is necessary
to enable him to support the burden of his branching honours; but which,
joined to the projection of his shoulders, and the disproportionate
length of his fore-legs, gives him a very ungraceful aspect. Nor can he
browse the herbage without making a great digression or falling on his
knees. The male, moreover, under the throat has a sort of goître, or
swelling, garnished with a rude pointed beard. The female wears a beard,
but has no goître. The neck is surmounted with a short, stiff, blackish
mane. The rest of the hair is of a pronounced gray.

The eland inhabits the marshy plains and banks of rivers; he dreads the
heat, and to escape it will often remain during the long summer days
plunged up to his neck in the cool waters. He lives with his comrades in
tolerably numerous herds. The first birth of the female is only one;
afterwards she produces two at a time. Frequently the eland attains a
prodigious stature. An individual killed in the Altaï measured four feet
and a half in height to the shoulder, and four feet and a third in
length. His flesh is said to be light and nourishing; his hide excellent
for making shoulder-belts; and his antlers are converted to the same
uses as the horns of the stag.

       *       *       *       *       *

Among the hollow-horned ruminants I may mention the _Saiga_, a kind of
antelope which inhabits the Asiatic Steppes, and is met with even in
Poland. In figure he takes the poetical elegance of the gazelle; his
horns are of a clear yellow colour, and of a transparency which rivals
that of tortoise-shell. His forehead is covered with transversal folds;
he has no muzzle, properly speaking, but a kind of snout like that of a
hog. It is said that he drinks through his nostrils. The saigas travel
in herds of about two thousand each, of whom a certain number keep
always some distance in advance, in the rear, and on the flanks of the
main host, so as to watch over their security.

       *       *       *       *       *

Another kind of gazelle, the _Dseren_, is peculiar to the Mongolian
Deserts, and named by the inhabitants the _yellow stag_. His stature is
little inferior to that of the deer. The female is without horns.

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Moufflon_,[28] the original of our domestic sheep, sometimes strays
into the plains of Central Asia, but prefers the solitude of the
mountains. His general size is that of a small fallow deer, but though
clothed with hair instead of wool, he bears a closer resemblance to the
ram than to any other animal. In summer his hair is close, but in winter
it becomes rough, wavy, and slightly curled. On the upper part of the
body it is brown, but the under part and insides of the limbs are
whitish. The hair is considerably longer under the throat, and about the
neck and shoulders, than elsewhere.

We may refer, in this connection, to the _Egagra_, or wild goat, which
Cuvier considers to have been the original stock of the numerous races
of goats spread over various regions of the globe.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Steppes nourish two species of _Rodents_: the Varying Hare (_Lepus
variabilis_), so called because he changes from tawny gray in summer to
white in winter; and a gray squirrel, which is probably only a variety
of our common European squirrel. He is not a climber and a "haunter of
the woods," like his congener. He abounds in the Mongolian Steppes,
where he lives in holes excavated under the earth, like the rats and
rabbits. He is, however, much more ingenious than the other
troglodyte-rodents; he shelters the entrance to his abode under a domed
roof, skilfully constructed of dry herbs woven together, and covered
with clay. These works closely resemble the mounds upheaved by moles.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Carnaria of the _Felidæ_, or feline family, are wanting, or nearly
so, in the immense zone which we are considering. Except a species of
lynx, the _Chilason_ or _Chulon_, whose existence has been recognized in
the north of Tartary; and a few tigers which adventure into Mongolia, we
may say that the Asiatic Steppes, and, therefore, also those of Europe,
are exempt from these inconvenient guests. The most dangerous, and
almost the only enemy which man and the herbivora have reason to dread,
is the _Wolf_. This animal, now very rare in Western Europe, where his
race will soon disappear, is still found in great numbers in the wild
Lithuanian forests, in Russia, and all Northern and Central Asia. To
him, as to other animals of the _Canidæ_, cold appears more favourable
than heat, and it is in countries where the average temperature seldom
rises high he attains his greatest dimensions. In Lithuania wolves are
often met with which measure three feet and a half in length, without
the tail. Those of Northern Asia are also of a great size and nerve, of
terrible strength and audacity; they have been seen to pounce on a
sheep, and carry it off at full speed. They intrude in quest of victims
into the towns, the villages, and the encampments; combat to the last
with their enemies; and when vanquished die without a groan. Generally
they lurk in the woods and forests; but hunger, according to the
proverb, drives them forth from their lairs. Then they assemble in vast
hordes; they pursue, they assail, they defend, with ingenious tactic,
skilfully availing themselves of the disposition and accidents of the
ground. Their manoeuvres vary according to the nature of the game or
the enemy. In general, if a man preserve an upright bearing and a bold
countenance, they will not attack him; they follow him stealthily,
however, prepared to pounce upon him if, unhappily, he should stumble or
falter. But the wolves of Tartary, far from sharing in this deference
towards the lord of creation, display a singular bitterness against him.
"It is remarked," says the Jesuit missionary Huc, "that the Mongolian
wolves attack man more willingly than any animals; one sees them
sometimes galloping through innumerable flocks of sheep, without
inflicting any injury, in order to dash upon the shepherd. In the
neighbourhood of the Great Wall they frequently descend upon the
Tartar-Chinese villages, enter the farms, turn aside with contempt from
the domestic animals which they encounter, and penetrate even into the
interior of the houses to select their victims, seizing them invariably
by the throat and strangling them. Not a village in Tartary but has
every year to deplore some calamity of this kind. One might say that the
wolves of this country sought specially to avenge themselves on men for
the blood-thirsty war the Tartars wage against them." And it is true
that in their pursuit of these animals the inhabitants of the Steppes
display not only an ardour which would be legitimate, but a fierce and
uncontrollable cruelty.

[Illustration: CAPTURE OF A WOLF BY A KIRGHIZ HORSEMAN.]

"They pursue them everywhere _à outrance_," remarks M. Huc; "they regard
them as their chief enemy, on account of the terrible losses they
inflict upon their flocks. The news that a wolf has made his appearance
in the neighbourhood is for everybody a signal to 'mount and ride away.'
And as each cavalier has always two or three saddled horses in waiting
near his tent, the plain is speedily covered, as if by enchantment, with
a cloud of eager horsemen. Their weapon is a long rod.[29] Thus, in
whatever direction the wolf may seek to escape, he encounters a band of
determined adversaries, whose cry, as they precipitate themselves upon
their traditional foe, is 'No quarter!' There are no mountain-sides so
rugged or so difficult, that the nimble horses of the Tartars cannot
pursue him thither. The cavalier who finally overtakes the beast, flings
a lasso round his neck as he passes at full gallop, and drags him in his
rapid track to the nearest tent. There they firmly bind up his muzzle,
that they may proceed to torture him with impunity, closing up the
tragic scene by flaying him alive, and then setting him free. In the
summer the miserable animal will live in this condition for several
days; but in winter, exposed without his furry coat to the rigour of the
season, he dies almost immediately, frozen to death."[30]

It is generally considered that the wolf is an animal as cowardly as he
is fierce, because he flies before man when man does not retreat before
him, and because he kills unoffending animals. But we forget that man
acts in a precisely similar manner. Numerous experiments, and especially
those of Cuvier, have clearly proved that the wolf is fully capable of
being domesticated, is very sensible of kindly treatment, and will as
readily grow familiar with, and attached to, his master, as the best of
dogs. We must, therefore, refer his ferocity to the instinct of
self-preservation and of a vengeance too frequently excited; just as at
the Cape of Good Hope, the unfortunate Bosjesmen, formerly treated like
beasts by the Dutch colonists, though naturally of a peaceable
disposition, became active and cruel aggressors, and daring assailants,
against the enemies who had exhausted their patience.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two other wild beasts of the dog genus, the _Korsak_ and the _Karogun_,
are eagerly hunted by the Tartars, especially by the Kirghiz. But the
chase, in this instance, is carried on for industrial purposes. The fur
of these animals is very valuable, and the Kirghiz hunters carry
thousands every year to the great market of Orenburg. The korsak is a
species of fox. In colour he closely resembles the jackal; but he has a
long tail, with a black tuft at the tip, and on each side of the head a
brown stripe extends from the eye to the muzzle. He ranges over all the
Steppes of Tartary, and lives in burrows like the foxes. The natives
pretend that he never drinks. He is a very handsome animal, and when,
towards the close of the sixteenth century, several individuals were
brought to Europe, he became quite the fashion. All the great ladies of
the court were desirous of possessing one, which they tended in their
chambers, and when promenading in the parks, often led about like a
spaniel. The mania was of brief duration, but it clearly showed how
easily the animal could be tamed and reared.

Buffon has confounded the karogun with the isatis or polar fox, and
other animals with the korsak. He is equally distinct from the one as
from the other, and the Kirghiz never make a mistake, though they hunt
for both in the same districts. His skin is of an ashen gray on the
back, and a pale yellow under the belly. His fur is not less precious
than that of the korsak.

       *       *       *       *       *

The wild Ornithology of the Steppes comprises some migratory palmipedes,
a few gallinaceæ, and some predatory birds of the falcon family. Gulls,
wild ducks, herons, curlews, and especially pelicans, people the shores
of the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, and the Caspian, with the banks of
the rivers that flow into them, and the neighbouring pools. The Cossack
and Kalmük chiefs, who now ardently cherish the love of falconry that
was so marked a trait in the character of the mediæval nobles, hunt
these birds with much enthusiasm, save, indeed, the pelican, whose flesh
is not edible.

The _herons_ form, in the order _Grallatores_ and the tribe
_Cultirostres_ (knife-like beak), a family (_Ardeidæ_) composed of
numerous species, several of which inhabit or frequent the marshes,
lakes, and streams of the region of the Steppes.

    "O'er yonder lake the while,
     What bird about that wooded isle,
     With pendant feet and pinions slow,
     Is seen his ponderous length to row?
     'Tis the tall heron's awkward flight,
     His crest of black, and neck of white,
     Far sunk his gray-blue wings between,
     And giant legs of murky green."[31]

The most remarkable species is the great white heron (_Ardea alba_), or
yellow-billed white egret, clothed in plumage of snowy white, with a
long yellow bill, long lank limbs, and black feet; length about forty
inches. On the nape and the croup his feathers are long and flexible,
wavy, and with tapering ends; they are eagerly sought after for purposes
of adornment. We may also mention the great bittern, the "bird of
desolation" (_Botauris stellaris_)--which the French expressively name
_eau-mère_, or "water-mother," and which derives its zoological
appellation from the Latin words _bos_ and _taureau_, in allusion to the
booming, bellowing sound of his hoarse voice. His plumage is of a pale
yellow, marked with brown and nest-coloured zig-zag patches and shades.
From the fulness of the feathers about his neck, he presents a very
quaint, and even ridiculous appearance; but he is a bird of courage, and
even of ferocity, striking with keen bill at the eyes of his antagonist.
When attacked by dogs or other carnivora, he will throw himself upon the
ground, and fight with both claws and bill unto the very last.

[Illustration: 1. Great Bittern. 2. White Heron or Egret. 3. Curlew.]

The _curlew_ is allied to the ibis, differing from it only in secondary
particulars, and notably in the form of his bill, which is thinner, and
rounded in its whole length. His tail resembles the hen's; the plumage
of the head, neck, and fore part of the back, is light reddish-gray,
streaked with dark-brown; the hind part of the back is white, with dark
narrow longitudinal markings; the tail, breast, and abdomen are white,
the former crossed with black bars, and the latter with dark marks and
spots of a similar shape to those on the back. The female lays four
excessively large pyriform eggs, about three inches long. The cry of the
curlew is loud, wild, and plaintive. These birds assemble in numerous
flocks, and live on the sea-coast and the marsh-border, feeding on worms
and molluscs. At breeding-time they separate into pairs, and haunt the
wild hills and dreary moorlands,--

    "Remote from human sight,
     In lonely pairs their vernal flight
     They speed o'er heathy mountain rude,
     On some waste marsh's solitude,
     To the tall grass or bristling reed
     Their wild unnestled young to breed."

The species of _Pelican_ which inhabits the shores of the Black and
Caspian Seas is the Common (_Pelicanus Onocrotalus_). We must not pass
unnoticed this well-known wader, which has for ages been invested with
an atmosphere of song and fable, and which is specially remarkable for
the bright yellow membranous pouch attached to the lower mandible of his
long robust bill. This pouch, says Broderip, will hold a considerable
number of fish, and thus enables the bird to dispose of the superfluous
quantity which may be taken during fishing excursions, either for his
own consumption or for the nourishment of his young. "In feeding the
nestlings--and the male is said to supply the wants of the female, when
sitting, in the same manner--the under mandible is pressed against the
neck and breast, to assist the bird in disgorging the contents of the
capacious pouch; and during this action the red nail of the upper
mandible would appear to come in contact with the breast, thus laying
the foundation, in all probability, for the _fable_ that the pelican
nourishes her young with her blood, and for the attitude in which the
imagination of painters has placed the bird in books of emblems, with
the blood spirting from the wounds made by the terminating nail of the
upper mandible into the gaping mouths of her offspring."

It is usually in the evening or the morning that these birds gather
about the lonely shores to fish in company, like a party of sociable
Izaak Waltons, and proceeding, as Nordmann remarks, upon a systematic
plan, which is apparently the result of a kind of concerted agreement.
They select a suitable station--a shallow bay with a smooth bottom.
There they arrange themselves in a half-circle, the bill turned towards
the ground, and keeping at a distance of from ten to twelve feet. With
their wings they beat the water hurriedly, and sometimes plunge in up to
their middle, gradually wading towards the beach, and driving the fish
before them into a very narrow channel. Now the feast commences, and
other birds never fail to profit by the ingenious labours of the
pelican. Nordmann counted, on one occasion, forty-nine pelicans fishing
together in this fashion on the shores of the Black Sea.

"Besides these forty-nine," he adds, "there were assembled on the heaps
of algæ, confervæ, and shells cast ashore by the sea, hundreds of
sea-mews, sea-swallows, sea-daws, preparing to snatch the fish out of
the water, and to divide amongst themselves the remains of the banquet.
Finally, several grebes swimming in the area circumscribed by the
semicircle of fishers, while this space was still sufficiently broad,
played their part at the welcome feast, frequently plunging after the
scared and terrified fish."

The _bustard_ and the _grouse_, or heather-cock, are common enough in
the prairies of Central Asia. Crows and numerous birds of prey also
flock thither in search of their dead or living prey. Travellers speak
of a _black eagle_ of Mongolia which the Mongols and Kalkas train to
hunt the _moufflon_, the yellow goat, and the saiga. We cannot find the
bird described under this name by any naturalist, nor can we determine
whether he is an eagle properly so called, or whether he is not rather
the cosmopolitan black kite (_milvus ater_), which rises so fiercely on
his plumed wings,

    "And hunts the air for plunder."

We may mention, as also proper to Central Asia, the _Aquila bifasciata_
of Dr. Gray, and several species of buzzards, hawks, and falcons. These
_Raptores_ live very peacefully in the desert solitudes, where none
disturb them; and so little do they fear man, that they venture into the
Mongol encampments and carry off the provisions destined for the
travellers' refreshment. An incident of this nature is recorded by the
Abbé Huc, who, with his companions, was at the time preparing to sup on
a quarter of a kid skilfully "dished up" by their Tartar neophyte,
Samdadchiemba.

"We had just seated ourselves," says M. Huc, "in a triangle on the
grassy sward, having in our midst the lid of the pot which served
instead of a dish, when suddenly a noise like thunder broke over our
heads. A great eagle fell like an arrow on our supper, and rose again
with the same rapidity, carrying off in his claws some slices of kid.
When we had recovered from our surprise, we had nothing better to do
than laugh at the adventure. However, Samdadchiemba could not laugh, not
he; he was exceedingly wroth, not on account of the stolen kid, but
because the eagle, in flying off, had insolently buffeted him with the
tip of his wing....

[Illustration: THE EAGLE OF THE STEPPES, AND THE ANTELOPE SAIGA.]

"The eagle," adds our author, "is found almost everywhere in the deserts
of Tartary. You see him sometimes hovering and wheeling round and round
in the air; sometimes, perched upon a hillock in the middle of the
plain, he remains there for a long time as motionless as a sentinel.
Often we encounter him on the ground, apparently larger than an ordinary
sheep; when we draw near, he is compelled, before he can rise into the
air, to make a long detour, agitating his heavy wings; after which,
succeeding in lifting himself a little above the ground, he soars aloft
at pleasure."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Erpetological fauna of the Steppes is little known, and is probably
very scanty. Unfortunately, this region has not been explored by
scientific naturalists, and the unprofessional travellers who have
visited it do not appear to have met with any reptiles which seemed to
them worthy of detailed notice. Atkinson, however, speaks of the stony
ridges of the plain as "swarming with _serpents_."--"I observed," he
says,[32] "four varieties: A black one, three feet eight inches long,
and about one inch and an eighth in diameter. Another was of slaty-gray
colour, from two to three feet long, and smaller in diameter than the
black snake. This breed was numerous, and often difficult to see, they
so nearly resembled the colour of some of the rocks. We also found some
of an ashy-green and black, with deep crimson specks on the sides; as
they moved along in the sun the colours were most brilliant." Another,
which Mr. Atkinson's companions killed, was of a dark-brown, with
greenish and red marks on the sides, and evidently very venomous. He
measured five feet two inches and a half without his head, and four
inches and a quarter round his body.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE INHABITANTS OF THE STEPPES:--TARTARS, COSSACKS, KALMÜKS, KIRGHIZ,
MONGOLS.


The Steppes of Tartary and Mongolia, interrupted, says Humboldt,[33] by
chains of mountains of various aspects, separate the ruder peoples of
Northern Asia from the primitive races, which have been for ages
civilized, of Hindostan and Thibet. Their existence has influenced the
destinies of mankind in various important ways. They have rolled back
the populations towards the south, and more than the Himálaya, more than
the snow-crowned peaks of Serinagur and Goorkha, have raised an obstacle
to the alliances of peoples, while opposing, in the north of Asia,
insuperable barriers to the refinement of manners and the genius of the
arts.

But it is not only as barriers that History should regard the plains of
Central Asia; they have several times let loose on earth a torrent of
calamity and devastation. The pastoral races of the Steppes--Mongols,
Getæ, Alans, and Huns--have convulsed the world. If, in the course of
ages, intellectual culture has directed its course from east to west,
like the vivifying light of the sun, Barbarism at a later period has
followed in the same track, when threatening to plunge all Europe into
darkness. A people of tawny shepherds, Tou-Kin (that is to say, Turkish)
in origin, the Hioung-Nou, inhabited, under tents of skin, the elevated
Steppe of the Gobi. Long formidable to the Chinese power, a horde of the
Hioung-Nou was driven back towards the south into Central Asia. The
impulse which they gave spread uninterruptedly even into the native
country of the Fins, on the borders of the Oural, and thence the Huns,
the Avars, the Chasurs, and various mixtures of Asiatic races, poured
forth in furious violence. The Hunnish hosts first appeared on the
banks of the Volga, then in Pannonia, and finally on the banks of the
Marne, and on those of the Po, ravaging the beautiful fields where, from
the days of Antenor, the genius of man had accumulated its glorious
monuments. Thus from the Mongolian deserts blew a pestiferous wind,
which choked even in the Cisalpine plains the delicate blossom of art,
the object of such tender and continual cares.

Our English traveller, Atkinson, has called the Steppes "the cradle of
invasions;" and this not only because from their solitudes issued the
hordes which devastated Europe in the first centuries of the Middle
Ages, but because Russia and Austria have found therein those truculent
soldiers of repulsive aspect who, in their hands, have become, even in
our own day, the scourge of the free and civilized nations they would
fain have subjugated.

In the present day the Steppes of Eastern Europe and of Asia are still
the asylum of savagery, if not of barbarism. The tribes scattered over
them are more or less closely allied to that fraction of the human
family which ethnographists designate under the name of the "Turanian."
Those of the East belong exclusively to the Mongolian branch, and those
of the West partly to the Mongolian and partly to the Turkish, more or
less modified by their mixture with the Slave branch of the great
Caucasian family. To all these peoples we commonly apply the term
Tartaro, or Tartars, which originally "was a name of the Mongolic races,
but through their political ascendancy in Asia after Chingis-Khan (A.D.
1227), it became usual to call all the tribes which were under Mongolian
sway by the name of Tartar."[34] It now really belongs to the small
tribe of Turkic origin which, after occupying Turkistan, has spread even
into the Crimea. We must distinguish from it, however, the Cossacks, or
Kosaks, who inhabit the Ukraine, the banks of the Don and the Dnieper,
and who are more closely related to the Slave family than the Mongolian
race.

We shall pass in rapid review the principal hordes which inhabit the
Steppes, from the western border to the eastern extremity of these
deserts.

The first tribe which we encounter on the shores of the Sea of Azov and
the Black Sea is that of the Tartar-Nogáis, who formerly lived
north-east of the Caspian. "Pressed by the Kalmüks, or Mongolic tribe,
the Nogáis advanced westward as far as Astrachan. Peter I. transferred
them thence to the north of the Caucasian mountains, where they still
graze their flocks on the shores of the Kuban and the Kuma." Of late
years, however, they have begun to settle themselves in permanent
habitations, owing to the exertions of a French emigré, Count Maison,
who was appointed their governor in 1808.

They now occupy (according to Madame Hommaire de Hell) all the territory
comprised between the Sea of Azov and the river of Malochnia-Vodi. They
number about 32,000 souls, spread over seventy villages. Their huts are
small, with a roof constructed of beams of timber, covered with reeds,
which are afterwards loaded with clay and ashes. They occupy themselves
wholly in rearing horses and cattle. The horses of the Kalmük-Kirghiz
breed are of moderate stature, but nimble and robust. All the year round
they roam across the plains, and in winter seek their provender beneath
the snow. The horned cattle are small and puny, the cows yield but a
poor supply of milk, and are of scarcely any value.

The aged Nogáis shave the hair entirely off; the young people preserve a
single tuft on the top of the head. This custom compels them to wear
constantly a bonnet of wool or lamb's skin. A short caftan over a shirt
of cotton or woollen, bound round the waist by a leather belt; loose,
wide trousers; in winter a pelisse of sheep's skin and a kind of hood
enveloping the head and shoulders, compose the dress of the males. As
for the women, they wear above the chemise a caftan of cloth, girded
about the form by a large belt ornamented with great metal buckles; they
likewise figure in Turkish trousers and slippers, with a long white veil
fastened round the head, and allowed to fall upon the shoulders; small
silver rings adorn the fingers and the nose; heavy ear-drops hang from
their ears, the two being frequently linked together by a chain passing
under the chin. The young girls dress their hair in a multiplicity of
curls, and instead of the veil wear a small red fez, garnished with
pieces of metal and all kinds of trinkets.

The Nogáis are Mohammedans, of the sect called Sunnites (or believers in
the "Sunna," the sayings and aphorisms traditionally attributed to the
Prophet). Their name is derived from that of their first chief, the
grandson of Chingis-Khán, who, about 1260, declared himself independent
of the Kapchakian empire, and established himself with his warriors on
the borders of the Black Sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Kosaks (or Cossacks) are, as we have said, Slaves rather than
Tartars. They have blue eyes, red hair, thick lips, a flat nose. Nimble,
robust, indefatigable, skilful horsemen, they furnish the Russian army
with a formidable host of irregulars. Some have fixed their homes in the
towns, but the majority inhabit the villages or _stanitzas_ scattered
over the Steppes. Very few are agriculturists. Either they devote
themselves to breeding horses and cattle, or live on the small pension
allowed them for their military services. Nearly all the young and hardy
of the males have no other trade but that of arms. The Cossack
chieftains, their Hetmans, or Attamans, derive their authority directly
from the Czar. Their religion is that of the Russian Greek Church; and
they are, we believe, the only Christians in the entire zone of the
Steppes.

Bold and resolute robbers in time of war, the Cossacks "at home" are
peaceable, kindly-natured, and more honest than the Russian Mongiks. The
erroneous ideas which still prevail respecting their character are
mainly due to French prejudices, excited by the disastrous events of
1814 and 1815, when the jingle of their arms resounded in the streets of
Paris. But they are not really so black as they have been painted. The
traveller passes through the country which they inhabit with the utmost
security, and is received in their stanitzas with a hospitable welcome.

These stanitzas, if we may credit Madame Hommaire de Hell, present a far
more agreeable appearance than the Russian villages. They consist of
small wooden houses, gaily painted. There is but one story, which is
surrounded by a miniature gallery, and seems expressly constructed to
please the eye. The interior is exceedingly neat and pretty, indicating
an intelligence and an idea of comfort which the Russians never exhibit.
You will find it enriched with towels, dishes of delft ware, forks, and
all the most necessary utensils. Usually two huts are built in one
block; the first, which we have just described, is occupied for a summer
residence; it contains, generally, one room hung with paper of a lively
design, and adorned with images, flowers, and trophies of arms, which is
reserved for state occasions and the entertainment of strangers. The
second hut, built of dried clay, resembles the Russian _kates_,
consisting of a single chamber, where all the household huddle together
during the winter to shelter themselves from the cold.

The traveller seldom sees in these stanitzas any but women and children.
With the exception of a few gray veterans, who have purchased by forty
years of service the right of dying under the home-roof, the entire male
population is under arms. Thus all the work falls upon the shoulders of
the women, who must repair the houses, cleanse and dry the furs, take
care of the children, and watch the cattle.

The Cossack soldiers, regulars and irregulars, are the guardians of the
Steppes. To them is intrusted the security of the traveller, who is much
exposed to the attacks of nomadic Turkomen, whose only occupation is
robbery. The surveillance of these immense plains is not so difficult,
however, nor does it necessitate so large a force as you might suppose.
Small watch-posts, or platforms, of extreme simplicity of design, are
raised at intervals on the higher grounds; they consist of four long
stout poles planted in the earth, and supporting a timber floor, which
is sometimes sheltered by a roof of timber. These are the observatories,
the prospect-towers of the Cossacks, who can thus obtain a survey over
an immense sweep of country, and exchange signals with one another. The
horsemen always remain stationed under the platform, ready to leap into
the saddle and to gallop wherever their presence may be required.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: COSSACK HORSEMEN IN THE STEPPES.]

In the Steppes of the Caspian Sea the Cossacks give place to the
Kalmüks, or Olöts, a people of the Mongolic race, who originally
inhabited Turkistan, but abandoned that country, in 1778, for the banks
of the Volga. Their life is wholly nomadic. They encamp under tents
called _kibitkas_, formed of a trellis-work of wood covered with thick
felt. In stature they do not often exceed the middle height; they are
thin and ugly, with a swarthy skin, a large flat countenance, little
eyes, broad nose, thick lips, and frizzled beard. They are inoffensive,
hospitable like all Eastern people, but idle and cunning. Their costume
differs but little from that of the Tartars-Nogáis. They profess the
Lamaii religion, and obey the chiefs whom they themselves elect, and who
bear the title of khans. The Russian Government levies among the Kalmük
tribes encamped on its territory a body of irregular troops, whom it
employs in the defence of its eastern and southern frontiers.

According to Madame de Hell, the Kalmüks are as friendly as the Cossacks
in their reception of a stranger. "The last encampment," she says,
"where we passed the night, appeared to us one of the most considerable
which we had hitherto met with. The country, almost transformed, was no
longer saddened by the great sandy plains of the Caspian Sea and the
Manitch.... Herds of horses, camels, and oxen furrowed the surface of
the Steppe, announcing the wealth of the hordes to which they belonged.
No hostile manifestation on the part of the latter occurred to disturb
our security. Happy in receiving us in the very midst of their tents,
these good Kalmüks never attempted to rob us even of the most trifling
article. Their desires and their wants are so limited! To tame a wild
horse, to roam from one Steppe to another on their camels, to smoke, and
to drink _koumis_, to shut out the cold airs of winter with smoke and
ashes, and to observe devoutly the superstitious practices of a religion
which they cannot understand--such is their whole life."

At intervals, the traveller who crosses the Steppes of the Caspian
encounters with astonishment, in the most dreary localities, far from
every Cossack village and Kalmük kibitka, a group of men, women, and
children with bronzed complexions, with features strongly defined,
covered with squalid and grotesque rags, dragging their naked feet over
the damp and burning soil, and leading small vehicles loaded with
implements and utensils of every kind. He easily recognizes in these
beings of sinister mien, audacious mendicants, skilful thieves,
musicians, blacksmiths, conjurers--what shall I say?--the _débris_, in a
word, of that once great, and perhaps powerful race, now so degraded and
corrupt, whose problematical history is the despair of the scholar. The
scorn and mistrust of every nation--impatient of all discipline, all
education--without law, without religion, without country--these men
speak a language which none can understand. Of their real name they are
themselves ignorant, and they accept with indifference that which is
imposed upon them in different countries: in the East, _Romany_; in
Moldavia, _Tsiganes_; in Italy, _Zingari_; in Spain, _Gilanos_; in
France, _Bohemians_; in England, _Gipsies_.[35] The Germans call them
_Zigeuner_; the Dutch, expressively but intolerantly, _Heathens_; the
Persians, _Sisech_; the Hindus, _Kavachee_; the Danes and Swedes,
_Tatars_; and the Arabs, _Haramé_. Their origin has been a theme of
speculation for centuries, and all that seems certain, after a vast
amount of research and discussion, is, that the cradle of the race was
India. To what Indian people they should be affiliated is still
doubtful; whether to the Zuts or Djalts of the north; the Tshingani, who
dwelt near the mouth of the Indus; or the Tshandalas, chronicled by name
in the laws of Menou.

We know that their first immigration into Europe occurred about the
close of the tenth century, for we find them referred to in a paraphrase
of the book of Genesis, written by an Austrian monk, about 1122. They
are there spoken of as "Ishmaelites and braziers, who go peddling
through the wide world, having neither house nor home, cheating the
people with their tricks, and secretly deceiving mankind." In the
fourteenth century a considerable body settled in Wallachia, Hungary,
and the island of Cyprus. Next, they invaded Germany, broke into
Switzerland, and appeared in Bologna and other Italian cities. Like a
besieging army they set down before Paris in 1427, but were not suffered
to enter its precincts. A few years later they crossed into England, and
gradually they overspread the whole of Europe. Their own account of
themselves represented that they came from "Little Egypt;" that about
four thousand of their number had been compulsorily baptized by the
king, and condemned to seven years' wanderings, while the remainder had
been slain. At first, their wealth, their pomp, and their supposed
penitence secured them a favourable reception; but when their wealth
was dissipated, their pomp decayed, and their penitence discovered to be
a sham, a storm of obloquy broke over their heads. Every European
government levelled the most arbitrary decrees against them, which
continued in force down to the middle of the eighteenth century. Various
attempts have since been made to civilize and incorporate them with the
general body of the population, but these have obtained a very limited
success. They still remain a race apart, with their own language (Romany
Tschib), their own traditions, their own customs, their distinct
personal characteristics. They still remain a race cursed with the curse
of perpetual restlessness; a mysterious impulse constrains them to
wander; they live secluded from all other peoples; an atmosphere of
secrecy enshrouds their inner life, their language, and their creed.
They are gifted with a remarkable love of and capacity for music, and a
strange wild charm invests their own gipsy-melodies. Their character is
a grotesque combination of the most opposite qualities; for they are
brave and yet cowardly; revengeful, yet loyal; treacherous, yet capable
of the most passionate attachment; indolent, yet energetic; chaste, yet
fond of licentious songs and dances. In a word, they are a problem to
the ethnologist, the moralist, and the historical student; and fence
themselves about with so impenetrable a reserve, that we may well doubt
whether the full truth respecting them will ever be ascertained.[36]

The Tsiganes or Romany are very numerous in Southern Russia. They pass
from town to town, from village to village, sometimes begging or
stealing, sometimes exercising their peculiar trades and industries, and
providing for their wants more honestly. They never establish themselves
permanently in any place. They halt wherever the evening shades may
chance to overtake them, stretch a few fragments of woollen stuff across
the poles of their vehicles to serve for tents, kindle a fire with
herbs, twigs, and dry branches, partly to cook their food, and partly to
scare away the wild beasts, and fling themselves down pell-mell to
sleep on mats or the naked earth. When morning dawns, they resume their
life-long march--giving no thought to the future, no dream to the
past--without object, hope, or purpose.

[Illustration: NIGHT ENCAMPMENT OF GIPSIES IN THE STEPPE.]

The Steppes of the interior of Asia, from the Aral river to the Ala-Tau
mountains, are occupied by the great nation of the Kirghiz, who have,
from time immemorial, been divided into the Great, Middle, and Little
Hordes. To the former belongs the territory north of the Ala-Tau, with
portions of China and Tartary. They are subject to the sovereigns of the
countries in which they dwell. The Middle Horde inhabits the district
between the Ishim, Irtish, Lake Balkhush, and Khokan. The Little (and
far most numerous) Horde wanders over the grassy plains bounded by the
Yamba and the Ural, Turkistan (now a Russian province), and the country
of the Middle Horde (or Siberian Kirghizes). Altogether, the Kirghizes
number upwards of one and a quarter million of souls. They are of
Turco-Tartaric origin, and Southern Siberia is their mother country.[37]

Though owing a nominal allegiance to the Russian Czar and the Chinese
Emperor, they are virtually independent, and obey only their sultans or
chiefs. They are frequently at war. Many live wholly by brigandage;
suddenly descending, under cover of night, upon the richest _aouls_, or
villages, slaying all who resist, and carrying off horses, cattle, and
all objects of value, and men, women and children, whom they sell as
slaves. These nocturnal razzias are designated, in the Kirghiz language,
_barantas_.

The _yourt_, or tent of these nomades, resembles the kibitka of the
Kalmüks. We borrow a description of one belonging to a Kirghiz chief
from Mr. Atkinson's entertaining pages.

"It was formed," he says,[38] "of willow trellis-work, put together with
untanned strips of skin, made into compartments which fold up. It was a
circle of thirty-four feet in diameter, five feet high to the springing
of the dome, and twelve feet in the centre. This dome is formed of bent
rods of willow, one and a quarter inch diameter, put into the
mortice-hole of a ring about four feet across, which secures the top of
the dome, admits light, and lets out the smoke. The lower ends of the
willow-rods are tied with leathern thongs to the top of the trellis-work
at the sides, which renders it quite strong and secure. The whole is
then covered with large sheets of _voilock_, made of wool and camel's
hair, fitting close, making it water-tight and warm. A small aperture in
the trellis-work forms a doorway, over which a piece of _voilock_ hangs
down and closes it; but in the daytime this is rolled up and secured on
the top of the _yourt_.

"The furniture and fittings of these dwellings are exceedingly simple;
the fire being made on the ground in the centre of the _yourt_, directly
opposite to the door _voilocks_ are spread: on these stand sundry boxes,
which contain the different articles of clothing, pieces of Chinese
silk, tea, dried fruits, _ambas_ of silver (small squares, about two and
a half inches long, one inch and a half wide, and about three-tenths of
an inch thick). Some of the Kirghiz possess large quantities of these
_ambas_, which are carefully hoarded up. Above these boxes are bales of
Bokharian and Persian carpets, some of great beauty and value. In
another part of the _yourt_ is the large _koumis_ sack, completely
covered up with _voilock_ to keep it warm and aid the fermentation.

"And near this bag stands a large leathern bottle, sometimes holding
four gallons, often much ornamented; so are the small bottles made to
carry on the saddle. In another place stands the large iron caldron, and
the trivet on which it is placed when used for cooking in the _yourt_.
There are usually half-a-dozen Chinese wooden bowls, often beautifully
painted and japanned. These are used to drink the _koumis_ from; some of
them hold three pints, others more. On entering a Kirghiz _yourt_ in
summer, one of the Chinese bowls full of _koumis_ is presented to each
guest. It is considered impolite to return the vessel before emptying
it, and a good Kirghiz is never guilty of this impropriety.

"The saddles are placed on the bales of carpets. Rich horse-trappings
being highly prized by the wealthy Kirghiz, many of their saddles are
beautiful and costly. If of Kirghiz workmanship, they are decorated with
silver inlaid on iron, in chaste ornamental designs, and have velvet
cushions; the bridles and other trappings covered with small iron plates
inlaid in the same manner.

"Leathern thongs and ropes made of camel's hair are hung up on the
trellis-work, common saddles, saddle-cloths, and leathern _tchimbar_.
This part of a Kirghiz costume is frequently made of black velvet,
splendidly embroidered with silk, more especially the back elevation."

Such is the dwelling of a Kirghiz chief in the Steppe.

[Illustration: KIRGHIZ AOUL OR VILLAGER.]

The national garment of the Kirghiz is the _khalat_, a kind of pelisse,
very long and very full, with large sleeves, in silk or cashmere, and of
the most dazzling colours; but the poorer warriors substitute for this
state dress a horse-skin jacket. Breeches fastened below the hips by a
girdle of wool or cashmere, high-heeled madder-coloured boots, and a
fox-skin cap, rising into a cone on the top, and lined inside with
crimson cloth, complete his costume. His weapons are the spear, the gun,
the axe, and the cutlass. The women wear a long and copious robe, and a
veil of numerous folds, surmounted by a lofty calico head-dress, a part
of which falls over the shoulders and covers up the neck.

The Kirghiz are fierce, cunning, and often cruel, but the life of a
guest is esteemed sacred. They have not so much respect, however, for
his property, and do not always resist the temptation of plundering him
of any article which suits their fancy. Equestrian exercises and
falconry are their favourite amusements. They love the chase, indeed,
with a true sportsman's passion; they love it for itself rather than for
the game it secures, for they have no greater dainty than a dish of
mutton. Their mode of preparing this viand is exquisitely simple. They
content themselves with skinning the animal, cutting it into quarters,
and plunging it into a pot, where they keep it boiling in a great
quantity of water for a couple of hours. Generally, to prevent the loss
of any portion, they cook with the meat the animal's intestines, without
even taking the trouble of cleaning them. The guests arrange themselves
in a circle on carpets of felt; the men in the foremost rank, the women
and children behind them. The smoking quarters of mutton are removed
from the pot; each man draws his knife, slashes off a slice, eats a
portion, and passes the remainder to his wife and children, who speedily
finish it. The dogs come in for the bones. Afterwards, bowls of the
liquor in which the meat has been boiled are handed round, and not a
Kirghiz but swallows the greasy broth with delight. This broth, koumis,
and tea are his customary drink; the tea is not made in the European
fashion, but becomes a veritable soup, prepared with milk, flour,
butter, and salt. In every well-to-do aoul the women keep constantly
upon the fire a vessel full of this beverage, which they offer to
visitors, just as the Turks serve up coffee, the Spaniards, chocolate,
and the French, wine.

       *       *       *       *       *

To the north of the Great Horde, in the government of Irkutsk (Siberia),
we meet with the Agro-Mongolian people of the Buriäts, numbering about
35,000 families. They are given to Chamanism, an idolatrous worship
widely spread through Eastern Siberia. Their supreme divinity inhabits
the sun, and reigns over a host of lesser gods.

       *       *       *       *       *

Finally, between Lake Baïkal and the Altaï Mountains to the north, the
Ala-Tau mountains west, the Great Wall of China south, and the sea east,
stretches the immense territory commonly known as Mongolia, and
inhabited in part by the tribes which represent the Mongol type in all
its primitive purity. This great desert, where grassy lands alternate
with dry and sandy or saline plains, was formerly the seat of a
flourishing empire, established by Chingis-Khán in 1227, which gave
birth to the three Mongol kingdoms of Krim, Kasan, and Astrachan.
Mongolic empires, at a later period, arose in China, Turkistan, Siberia,
Southern Russia, and Persia. The Mongolian dynasty lost its hold on
China in 1360, and a century later was driven out of Russia. In Central
Asia it was rehabilitated in 1369, by the illustrious Timur; but a
hundred years afterwards the empire was again crushed by its own weight.
Baber, a descendant of Timur, conquered India, and erected there a
Mongolian throne, which endured until the soldiers of Great Britain
defeated Tippoo Saib and captured Delhi. Most Mongolic tribes are now
under the rule of the nations whom they once had conquered, the Tungusic
sovereigns of China, the Russian Czars, and the Turkish Sultans.[39]

The ruins of Mongolian grandeur are still visible in those solitary
cities, which the traveller in the desert discovers half overwhelmed in
sand. "We met," says the Abbé Huc, "with an imposing and majestic
memorial of antiquity. It was a great city, desolate and abandoned. The
crenellated ramparts, the watch-towers, the four great gates, situated
at the four cardinal points, were all in perfect preservation; but all
was buried three-fourths deep in the ground, and covered with a thick
sward. We entered its vast precinct with a profound emotion of awe and
melancholy. We saw neither _débris_ nor ruins, but only the outline of a
beautiful and spacious city, wrapped in grass and weeds as in a funeral
shroud." Similar relics of the past are scattered over the deserts of
Mongolia, but everything connected with their origin is enveloped in
shadow.

The Mongolian family includes several branches, each subdivided into
tribes, obeying chiefs of unequal rank. The most numerous people are the
Kalkas, who occupy all the northern districts. The Mongols of the south,
dwelling near the Great Wall, have been affected in their habits and
manners by the neighbourhood of the Chinese; they have become
industrious, and engage eagerly in commercial affairs. But the Kalkas,
and the other tribes of the Great Gobi, are still nomadic, reckless, and
indolent. Their religion is Buddhism; they profess for its head, the
living Buddha or Great Lama (Dalai-lama, or Ocean-priest--_i.e._, wide
as the ocean), a reverence and a blind obedience, which they also pay to
the inferior lamas. "Under an external aspect of savagery," says Huc,
"the Mongol hides a character full of mildness and kindly feeling; he
passes suddenly from the wildest and most extravagant gaiety to a
sadness which has nothing forbidding. Timid to excess in his ordinary
life, when impelled by fanaticism or revenge, he displays an
irresistible impetuosity of courage. He is simple and credulous as a
child, and passionately loves stories and legends of the marvellous."

The Mongols are ugly in feature, of the middle height, agile and robust;
their sight is wonderfully keen, their hearing of an extraordinary
acuteness.[40] Their wants are restricted to the indispensable
necessities of life; of luxury they have no conception; their few
pleasures are easily enjoyed; their instincts lead them rather in the
path of good than of evil, and their defects, to use an expression of M.
Huc's, are those of ill-trained children. They need, perhaps, but a
well-directed impulse to develop their intellect, and guide them onward
to a far higher civilization. In the great human family, it is true that
as yet they do but fill the children's place, and it is impossible to
say whether their national genius is capable of any great or lasting
work.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]



BOOK II.

_THE DESERTS OF SAND:--THE DESERTS OF EUROPE AND AFRICA._



CHAPTER I.

THE RAINLESS DESERT--THE BED OF A SEA--THE DEAD SEA.


The Sandy Deserts may with equal, nay, with greater accuracy, be
entitled Salt Deserts, Rainless Deserts, Seas of Sand; for they present
at one and the same time all these characters, and the three last,
though less generally known than the first, are the most essential.

The soil is generally covered with a thick stratum of sand; but in
several places it also exhibits great walls of rock, and in others
masses of rolled or shattered pebbles. The subsoil is nearly always of a
gypseous or calcareous nature, rarely clayey; wherever it is porous and
permeable, it is impregnated with salt, which rises to the surface, or
is held in solution in the subterranean basins of water, the thermal
springs, the ponds, and the lakes. The saline efflorescences of the
deserts of Persia and Oriental Asia not only suffice for the wants of
the inhabitants, but supply the great Asiatic caravans with their
principal article of exportation.

The atmosphere of the Deserts is not less dry than their sands and
rocks. The sky wears a perennial azure, more or less veiled in haze, or
rather spotted with a few clouds. Johnstone represents them, in his
admirable "Physical Atlas," by two white unequal bands, characterised
as "Rainless Districts." Of these the larger occupies all the northern
region of Africa, and the greater portion of Arabia, Syria, Persia, and
Beloochistan, embracing an area of 80° of longitude over 17° of
latitude. The other extends over the table-lands of Thibet and the Gobi.
It is in form an irregular ellipsis, obliquely inclined from south-west
to north-east. Its length is about 1100 leagues; its width, 450. From
the former it is only separated by a narrow belt. In the region marked
by these two species rain is an extraordinary phenomenon; several years
will pass without the clouds shedding a single drop of water. This
permanent, and nearly absolute, aridity, establishes a very marked
difference between the Deserts properly so called, and the Landes,
Steppes, and Prairies, condemned as these are during the hot season to a
deadly dryness, but in winter inundated with rain or covered with snow;
and in spring converted into immense marshes, where an exuberant
vegetation makes its appearance, frequently capable of resisting the
action of the summer sun and the withering winds.

In the Rainless Districts vegetation is a nullity; it becomes reduced to
a very small number of saline plants and dwarf bushes, nourished by the
brackish waters which, the soil conceals. Finally, the desert region may
not only be compared to a sea in its aspect and immensity, but it is a
true sea, or at least the bed of an ancient sea, which formerly
communicated, and, perhaps, was confounded with the Mediterranean, and
whose drying up, though still incomplete, took place at a recent
geological epoch. We may reasonably conclude that, owing to a series of
gradual upheavals, this sea was at first broken up into vast lagoons;
that most of these successively disappeared, but not without leaving
some certain evidences of the primitive submersion of the continent. "If
we might hazard a conjecture," says a recent writer,[41] "it would be
that the same convulsions and upheavals which at the close of the
tertiary epoch indented the southern coasts of Europe, at the same time
drained the ocean which hitherto had rolled over the plains of the
Sahara, and submerged the low-lying lands, which probably united the
Canaries and Madeira to the mainland." To a similar cause must be
attributed the existence of the subterranean waters, springs, ponds, and
salt lakes, of which I have already spoken, and of the inland seas--the
Caspian, the Sea of Aral, and the Dead Sea; while the Black Sea and its
offshoots, the Sea of Azov and the Sea of Marmora, must have had the
same origin. I shall discuss this subject further when describing the
Great Sahara.

In Eastern and Central Asia, the Sandy or Salt Deserts alternate with
the Steppes, and with lands susceptible of a certain amount of
cultivation. The vast region which geographers designate the Great Gobi,
or the Shamo, is intersected by many grassy Steppes and even by fertile
fields, where the sedentary Mongols, and especially the Artons, yearly
sow and gather hemp, millet, and buckwheat. The sombre picture of "a
barren plain of shifting sand blown into high ridges where the summer
sun is scorching, no rain falls, and when thick fog occurs it is only
the precursor of fierce winds,"[42] is true only of special districts,
such as the Han-hai, or "Dry Sea," or the Desert of Sarkha. There, for
instance, we meet with no other vegetable than the salsolæ, or
salt-worts, which flourish around the small saline pools. Of these
pools, when seen from a distance, Mr. Atkinson notices a remarkable
characteristic: the salt crystals which accrete upon their banks
frequently reflect the orange or crimson hues of flowers, and resemble
glowing rubies set in a rich mounting.

As we advance in a south-easterly direction, we find the features of the
desert region more prominently marked.

Immense plains of sand, with a bare and brackish surface, called
_Bejaban_, traverse the whole of Persia, from the Caspian Sea to the
Indus. They comprise the Deserts of Kerusan, Seistan, Beloochistan, and
Mekran, rich in salts with a basis of soda. "The coasts of the Persian
Gulf," as Mrs. Somerville remarks, "are burning hot sandy solitudes, so
completely barren, that the country from Bassora to the Indus, a
distance of 1200 miles, is nearly a sterile waste. Three-tenths of
Persia is a desert, and the tableland is nearly a wide scene of
desolation. A great salt-desert occupies 27,000 square miles between
Irak and Khorasan, of which the soil is a stiff clay, covered with
efflorescence of common salt and nitre, often an inch thick, varied only
by a few saline plants and patches of verdure in the hollows. This
dreary waste joins the large sandy and equally dreary desert of Kerman.
Khelat, the capital of Beloochistan, is 7000 feet above the level of the
sea; round it there is cultivation, but the greater part of that country
is a lifeless plain, over which the brick-red sand is drifted by the
north wind into ridges like the waves of the sea, often twelve feet
high, without a vestige of vegetation. The blast of the desert, whose
hot and pestilential breath is fatal to man and animals, renders these
dismal sands impassable at certain seasons."

The Desert of Mekran is separated from that of Moultan by the Indus.
That which lies to the east of Kom, in the centre of Persia, is more
than sixty leagues in extent. Of Persia, M. Forgues observes that the
actual reality differs strangely from those glowing eastern landscapes
which poets and romancists love to paint. Even in those provinces where
the winter rains encourage the growth of vegetation, the scene would
hardly remind the traveller of

    "That delightful province of the Sun.
     The first of Persian lands he shines upon,
     Where all the loveliest children of his beam.
     Flowerets and fruits, blush over every stream."[43]

"To bare, dry mountain-ridges," says M. Forgues, "succeed plains,
sometimes incrusted with hard clay, sometimes clothed with thick sand.
At the outset of spring, in the months of April and May, the country is
coloured with some softer tints, the grass breaks here and there through
the granite and the gravel; but in the first summer heats everything
grows dry, and the soil resumes its monotonously brown or gray livery.
Water fails for cultivation, which in the best districts is confined to
a few scattered oases. In these vast spaces, when the eye surveys them
from some mountain-crest, there occurs nothing to arrest the gaze; and
when once the spring has past, the cultured fields become blended with
those which the plough has suffered to lie fallow, the clay-built
villages with the earth of which their walls are constructed. In these
confused landscapes even a considerable town scarcely traces its blurred
outline among the accumulated ruins in whose centre it persists in
living, and whose extent attests its decadence. It is a marvel if, on
arriving at the limit of these monotonous plains, the traveller
distinguishes them from the deserts to whose threshold they have
generally conducted him. He only recognizes the latter by the dazzling
gleam of their saline efflorescence, which stretches far out of sight,
and where at intervals abruptly projects some mass of ebon-black rock,
transformed by the solar refraction, and assuming in quick succession
the most fantastic aspects."

I have spoken of the inland seas and salt lakes which testify to the
primitive submersion of the whole region of the Great Deserts. Let us
pursue our route towards the west, and we shall encounter the most
remarkable of these vestiges of a remote past.

First, I shall speak of the Dead Sea, the Lake Asphaltes, which Dean
Stanley justly designates "one of the most remarkable spots in the
world," and which, as the reader knows, is situated in the south of
Palestine, at a short distance from Jerusalem. It is true that "a great
mass of legend and exaggeration, partly the effect, partly the cause, of
the old belief that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were buried under
the Dead Sea, has been gradually removed in recent years. The glittering
surface of the lake, with the thin mist of its own evaporations floating
over its surface, will now no more be taken for a gloomy sea, sending
forth sulphurous exhalations. The birds which pass over it without
injury have long ago destroyed the belief that no living creature could
survive the baneful atmosphere which hung upon its waters." But still,
for the scientific no less than for the historical student, it possesses
an absorbing interest. It is the most depressed sheet of water in the
world, lying fully thirteen hundred feet below the level of the
Mediterranean: as the Lake Sir-i-Kol, where the Oxus rises

    "In his high mountain-cradle in Pamere,"

is the most elevated.[44] "Its basin," to quote Dean Stanley's graphic
description, "is a steaming caldron--a bowl which, from the peculiar
temperature and deep cavity in which it is situated, can never be filled
to overflowing. The river Jordan, itself exposed to the same withering
influences, is not copious enough to furnish a supply equal to the
demand made by the rapid evaporation. Its excessive saltness is even
more remarkable than its deep depression. This peculiarity is, it is
believed, mainly occasioned by the huge barrier of fossil-salt at its
south-west corner, and heightened by the rapid evaporation of the fresh
water poured into it. Other like phenomena, though in a less striking
form, exist elsewhere. But, without entering into its wider relations,
this aspect is important, as that which most forcibly impressed the
sacred writers. To them it was 'the salt sea,' and nothing more. They
exhibit hardly a trace of the exaggerations of later times. And so it is
in fact. It is not gloom, but desolation, which is the prevailing
characteristic of the Sea of Death. Follow the course of the Jordan to
its end. How different from the first burst of its waters in Mount
Hermon, amongst the groves of Dan and Paneas! How different from the
'riotous prodigality of life' which has marked its downward course,
almost to the very termination of its existence! Gradually, within the
last mile from the Dead Sea, its verdure dies away, and the river melts
into its grave in a tame and sluggish stream; still, however, of
sufficient force to carry its brown waters far into the bright green
sea. Along the desert shore the white crust of salt indicates the cause
of sterility. Thus the few living creatures which the Jordan washes down
into the waters of the sea are destroyed. Hence arises the unnatural
buoyancy and the intolerable nausea to taste and touch, which raise to
the highest pitch the contrast between its clear, bitter waves, and the
soft, fresh, turbid stream of its parent river. Strewn along its
desolate margin lie the most striking memorials of this last conflict of
life and death: trunks and branches of trees, torn down from the
thickets of the river-jungle by the violence of the Jordan, thrust out
into the sea, and thrown up again by its waves, dead and barren as
itself. The dead beach shelves gradually into the calm waters. A deep
haze--that which to earlier ages gave the appearance of the 'smoke going
up for ever and ever'--veils its southern extremity, and almost gives it
the dim horizon of a real sea. In the nearer view rises the low island
close to its northern end, and the long promontory projecting from the
eastern side, which divides it into its two unequal parts. This is all
that I saw, and all that most pilgrims and travellers have seen, of the
Dead Sea."[45]

The sinister aspect of the valley of the Jordan, especially at the
embouchure of the river, impresses itself on the mind of every
spectator. There the traveller finds the path narrowed between two
abrupt gigantic walls. On the right rises the Arabian chain, black and
perpendicular; on the left, the Judæan range, less elevated, more
irregular, and resembling a dismantled ruin. "The valley comprised
between these two chains," says the Père Laorty-Hadji, "exhibits a soil
closely resembling the bed of a sea which has long been dry. You can
discern but a few stunted trees. Ruined towns and castles appear in the
distance. At the moment of flinging itself into the Dead Sea, the Jordan
itself, traversing a muddy soil, changes its physiognomy and colour. It
seems to drag reluctantly, towards the motionless lake, a burden of slow
and tawny waters. The shores of the Dead Sea are low on the east and
west; to the north and south high mountains enclose it." "These
mountains, separated by a formidable cleft, exhibit their beds of red
sandstone, overlain by a thick stratum of compact chalk, interrupted by
silicious fragments. One is surprised not to see a volcanic crater, when
all about, in this convulsed site, the action of fire is visible--the
violent, bitter struggle of the two Neptunian and Plutonian principles,
which, during the geological eras, contended for the empire of the
world. One might say that here the two antagonistic forces exhausted
themselves, that they have equally lost their potency; so much so, that
at the close of the combat all has sunk into the silence and immobility
of death. And who knows if the volcanic crater, whose absence at first
astonishes the observer, is not the Dead Sea itself? Is it unreasonable
to admit that after the upheaval of the mountains which inclose it, and
which a terrible explosion of subterranean fire will have separated, the
neighbouring waters were precipitated into and swallowed up in the
yawning gulf which they still fill to-day?... This hypothesis is so much
the more probable, because in this fire-scathed region the lake affords
manifest indications of an igneous travail even now accomplishing itself
sullenly in the bowels of the globe. We know that its name of Lake
Asphaltites is due to the semi-fluid bituminous matter which constantly
rises to its surface and accumulates on its shores. With the vapours
exhaled by this bitumen under the influence of heat, mingle sulphurous
and ammoniacal exhalations, which render the atmosphere of the Dead Sea
dangerous to breathe."[46]

Before 1835 no one had ventured upon its waters. An Irish traveller,
named Cottingham, was their first navigator; but after a five days'
voyage he returned to Jerusalem, and died of exhaustion. Two years later
Messrs. Moore and Beke made a new attempt. For several days they
withstood the pestilential exhalations of the lake, and succeeded in
proving the deep depression of its basin; but at length, both of them
being taken ill, they were compelled to cut short their explorations. In
1847 the enterprise was undertaken by a Frenchman--Lieutenant
Molyneux--who sounded it in many places, but was speedily carried off by
fever. The following year Lieutenant Lynch, of the American navy,
embarked on the lake in iron boats, with competent crews. He navigated
its waters for three weeks; but all who composed the expedition were
more or less severely attacked, and one of them, Lieutenant Deane,
succumbed.

[Illustration: THE DEAD SEA.]

Though, as we have said, geographical research has dissipated most of
the wild stories formerly accepted in reference to the peculiarly fatal
concomitants of the Dead Sea, it well deserves its expressive name. It
_is_ a _dead_ sea: it has neither the ocean's living movement nor
deep-sounding roar; the surf and the spray never sparkle on its rocks;
that "multitudinous laughter" which Homer ascribes to the sea is wholly
wanting; the wind never wakes a smile on its passive and sombre
countenance. By its shores one might realize Shelley's mournful wish,
and feel

                                "In the warm air
        His cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
    Breathe o'er his dying brain its last monotony."[47]

It is lifeless, untenanted; the fish found there, and brought down by
the Jordan, are dead. Unlike the Caspian, it is never stirred by the
whirr of wings--by the flight of gulls, or pelicans, or sea-mews. The
migratory birds sweep across it without even a pause, without seeking
the prey which they could not find. Its waters are denser than those of
other seas: their constituents are different, and mingled in different
proportions.

Laorty-Hadji is mistaken in his idea that they repose on a bed of rock
salt. Rock salt is the chloride of sodium in a nearly pure condition.
But the Dead Sea holds in solution a comparatively small portion of this
salt, mixed with large proportions of other salts. Its water was
analyzed for the first time in 1778 by Lavoiser, Macquer, and Sage.
Experiments have also been made by Arcet, Klaproth, Gmelin, Gay-Lussac,
and, more recently, by Boussingault. According to the latter, it
contains:--

  Chloride of magnesium,      10.7288
  Chloride of sodium,          6.4964
  Chloride of calcium,         3.5592
  Chloride of potassium,       1.6110
  Bromide of magnesium,        0.3306
  Sulphate of lime,            0.0424
  Sal-ammoniac,                 .0013
  Water,                      77.2303
                             --------
                             100.0000

It will be seen that it possesses neither chloride of manganese nor
chloride of aluminium, no nitrates, and no iodines; that it is,
therefore, not _sea water_, properly so called, but a mineral water _sui
generis_.

The enormous proportion of saline matter accounts for its exceptional
density, and justifies the assertion of travellers that a man floats
upon its surface like a log of wood; though we can hardly credit the
statement of Pococke that it is impossible to sink to the bottom. Its
gravity undoubtedly endows it with extraordinary buoyancy, and to dive
to any considerable depth is a matter of difficulty; but in the Dead
Sea, as in other seas, man must employ his strength and skill to keep
his body afloat.



CHAPTER II.

ARABIA DESERTA AND ARABIA PETRÆA.


The traveller who starts from the southern extremity of the Dead Sea
encounters a succession of deserts. To the east extend wide plains,
covered with ruins, where upwards of thirty cities are to be traced in
their decay, like Palmyra, by the trunks of shattered columns and the
wrecks of desecrated temples. This is the once flourishing country of
the Nabatheans, now haunted by some tribes of Idumean Arabs. One might
not inappropriately call it the vestibule of Arabia Deserta; a name
applicable to all the central and southern districts--that is to say, to
nearly three-fourths of the Arabian peninsula. There the sea of sand
reveals itself in all its nakedness, in all its horrors; with its
implacable sky and fiery atmosphere, its sandy billows, its masses of
salt, and, in certain places, with its hidden quicksands capable of
devouring entire armies. The Desert of Akhaf, situated towards the
extremity of the peninsula, conceals, it is said, several of these
abysses, where the hapless traveller, if he set his foot upon them,
would be instantly swallowed up. Thus even the Arabs regard it with an
unconquerable dread. It owes its name to a Saffite king who would fain
have traversed it with his troops, and who saw them perish therein even
to the last man. The tradition does not inform us how he himself escaped
this immense disaster.

[Illustration: CARAVAN IN THE DESERT.]

A European traveller, Baron de Wrede, undertook nevertheless, some
twenty-five years ago, to penetrate into this soul-appalling desert, and
attempted to measure the extent and depth of one of these abysses.
Starting in the morning from Saba, under the guidance of a few Bedouins,
he reached, after six hours' marching, the threshold of the desert of
Akhaf.

"A sandy plain, extending as far as the eye could reach," he says, "and
upon which arose innumerable hills in the semblance of waves,--such was
the scene presented to my gaze. Not the least trace of vegetation was
perceptible; not a bird interrupted with its song the tomb-like silence
which prevailed around the graves of the Sabean army. I remarked three
tracts distinguished by a dazzling whiteness. 'Yonder are the abysses,'
said the Bedouins; 'they are inhabited by the spirits who have covered
with this deceitful sand the treasures intrusted to their charge. He who
dares approach them will assuredly be dragged down under the sand! Do
not venture there!'

"Naturally, I paid no attention to this counsel; on the contrary, I
demanded to be guided towards them, according to agreement. Two hours
were consumed by our camels in reaching the bottom of the plateau, where
we arrived at sunset, taking up our quarters for the night on the lee
side of two enormous rocks. On the following day I insisted that the
Bedouins should guide me over these tracts. My trouble was in vain; fear
rendered them unable to utter a word. Furnished with a plumb-lead
weighing about a pound and a quarter, to which was attached a rope
nearly 350 yards in length, I accomplished this dangerous enterprise. I
occupied thirty-six minutes in reaching the first abyss; it was
thirty-six feet long by twenty-six feet broad, and formed an inclined
plain towards the centre, about six feet deep, which I attributed to the
action of the wind. I approached at first with the utmost precaution, in
order to examine the sand, and found it to be almost impalpable. I cast
my plumb-lead as far as I could; it disappeared immediately; however,
the rapidity with which the rope shortened gradually diminished; in five
minutes, it had wholly disappeared."

Baron de Wrede has made no attempt to account for this strange
phenomenon, which is not, I may add, peculiar to Arabia. The late Doctor
Cloquet, who for many years acted as chief physician to the Shah of
Persia, relates that he had seen similar gulfs in the great Salt Desert,
which he considered to occupy the place of lakes suddenly vanished. This
hypothesis is certainly admissible, and perhaps very probable; but while
in some degree explaining the existence of these abysses of sand, it
raises fresh questions which are by no means easily answered; for
instance, why have these lakes disappeared, and why have they been
replaced by this impalpable and incoherent dust in which heavy bodies
sink as in a void?

Consider, moreover, the remarks made by Doctor Cloquet in a letter
addressed in 1851 to the Academy of Medicine at Paris:--

"At fifteen parasangs from Teheran,[48] commences the _Salt Desert_,
which, from east to west, extends to the very frontiers of India. This
immense basin, eastward, has no other limits than the horizon; to the
west, to the north, to the south, it is bounded by hills of sand which
completely represent the Dunes of France. The soil, of a fawn-coloured
yellow, is composed of clay and sand, exactly resembling the mud which
occupies the bottom of a dried-up basin. It is said that at many points
a man on horseback will disappear without his body being ever again
discovered.[49] I have seen one of these places, near Sivas; the soil is
everywhere impregnated with salt mingled with nitre, which crystallizes
on the surface. For the rest, if you dig two or three inches deep, you
find water, though very brackish in quality. The general opinion is that
the desert was once occupied by a sea, which suddenly disappeared on the
night that Mohammed was born. And it seems to me that there is no reason
to doubt this sudden disappearance, since even in our own days, and only
a few years ago, the salt lake of Ourmiah (Urumiyeh), in the province of
Azerbaïdjan, vanished completely for twenty-four hours; it is true that
the waters emerged again from their subterranean basin. I think it
almost absolutely demonstrated, from inspection of these localities,
that at a remote epoch this sea communicated with the Caspian, and
formed one united basin of water. I am not sure but that in the south it
also communicated with the Indian Sea, for I have not travelled in that
direction. The apparition of the Elburz chain has cloven the two basins,
and the sea, receiving only inconsiderable streams, insensibly receded,
until the day when it was wholly dried up, leaving only two lakes: one,
the lake of Sivas, which disappeared in the seventh century; the other,
the lake of Seistan, which is still extant, and receives several of the
important rivers of Afghanistan. At all events, the great sea itself had
disappeared some generations prior to the epoch of Alexander.

"The great humidity of the soil," adds Doctor Cloquet, "struck me
vividly. Does not this humidity appear to indicate the presence of vast
subterranean sheets of water, which sweat, so to speak (_transsuderaient_),
through the porosities of the earth?"

The desert table-land of Nadjed, which fills all the central part of
Asia, is bounded on the west and south by the more fertile and fortunate
countries of the Hedjaz and the Hadramant, which skirt the Indian Ocean.
To the north-east lies the desert of the Tih, whose deep sand-drifts lie
between Palestine and the Isthmus of Suez, and which the Mediterranean
washes on the north, on the south-west the Gulf of Suez, and on the
south-east the Gulf of Akaba. This is the small triangular peninsula
which was known to ancient geographers as Arabia the Stony. A group of
ever-famous mountains, hallowed by the sublimest associations, Sinaï,
Horeb, Jebel Mûsa, Jebel Bestîn (St. Epistème), raise their granitic
summits on the southern point of this peninsula. "They are 'the Alps' of
Arabia; but the Alps planted in the desert, and therefore stripped of
all the clothing which goes to make up our notions of Swiss or English
mountains; stripped of the variegated drapery of oak, and birch, and
pine and fir, of moss, and grass, and fern; which to landscapes of
European hills are almost as essential as the rocks and peaks
themselves." Sinaï, or St. Catherine, the loftiest peak in the range,
reaches an elevation of 8160 feet. It is so closely connected with Mount
Horeb, to the north, that the two mountains really seem but one.
Ravines, and narrow valleys planted with palm-trees, thorny acacias,
tamarisks, and some other shrubs, wind between the abrupt trunks of this
grand chain. In one of these valleys stands the Monastery of the
Transfiguration, and on Mount Horeb rises the Church of St. Catherine, a
shrine held in great esteem by devout Greeks. The pilgrims ascend on
their knees a large staircase laboriously constructed by the monks.

I have no space to recapitulate the sublime historic memories which
invest these solemn heights with an interest of their own. The presence
of the Almighty has clothed their summits with a glory that might not be
borne; the thunders of the Most High have echoed through their deep dark
valleys. At their base the people of Israel watched and waited while
Moses received from Heaven the code which thenceforth determined their
religious and civil polity. Down the side of yonder mighty peak came
their Prophet and Leader, his face bright with a radiance such as was
never before on the face of mortal man. They were the scene of a
singularly unique history; by which, as Dean Stanley remarks, "the fate
of the three surrounding nations--Egypt, Arabia, Palestine--and through
them the fate of the whole world, has been determined."

[Illustration: MOUNT SINAI.]

The locality, consecrated by such glorious associations, is also rich in
geological interest. It exhibits indubitable traces of the great
volcanic convulsions which have so profoundly shaken the shores of the
Dead Sea, and which still growl sullenly under the accumulated rocks. In
the time of Procopius, the legend runs that men fled from Sinaï on
account of the gruesome noises which haunted it; and modern travellers,
notably Stutzen and Gray, declare that they have heard at intervals a
sound comparable to the dull heavy throbbing of a Cyclops' pulse. It
might be said that one of the vast arteries which provide for the
circulation of the ever boiling and seething flood of lava of our globe
passes in this direction at an insignificant depth below the surface.
The springs of thermal waters which well out at the mountain-base, the
masses of bitumen and lava scattered over the soil, the gigantic rocks
which bristle over the whole desert of El-Tîh, and whose hue, to adopt
the expression of a modern traveller, is that of calcined and
fire-scathed matter, are sufficient evidence that this country has been
the theatre of dreadful volcanic phenomena.

Messrs. Bida and Hachette describe a place named _Wâdy-Nassoub_,
situated a short distance from Sarabit-el-Kadim, on the road from Sinaï
to Suez. It is gained after traversing Ramleh ("the sandy"), a sandy
ravine which serves as a retreat for horrible black serpents, both big
and little, and for enormous lizards, and which is followed by a narrow
valley. "Wâdy-Nassoub," according to these travellers, "is one of the
most magnificent spectacles we have ever seen. It is a circus of twenty
to twenty-five leagues in extent, surrounded by huge rocks arranged in
successive terraces, and of incomparable beauty of form and colour. Its
arena is an immense sheet of black basalt, furrowed here and there by
torrents of yellow sand. A dazzling sun kindles up this landscape, which
is one of incredible splendour."

[Illustration: LAKE BAUDOUIN (A SALT LAKE).]

As you approach the Isthmus of Suez--which will soon be annihilated, so
to speak, by M. de Lesseps' great ship-canal--the desert resumes the
character which we have seen it bear in Persia and Central Arabia. The
rocks, much rarer and less lofty, gradually give place to mountains of
sand. Salt lakes and fields of salt re-appear. Near the shores of the
Mediterranean lies a pool of salt, still known by that name of Lake
Baudouin (Baldwin), which the Crusaders imposed upon it. There the salt
forms a firm and tenacious crust, on which the camel safely plants its
foot. Sometimes the iron hoof of a horse breaks through, but beneath
this first frail stratum it meets with another of astonishing hardness.
"You might think yourself," says a traveller, "on the Mer de Glace of
Mont Blanc. Our camel-drivers collected some large pieces from the
surface. Nothing can be more brilliant or more transparent than these
crystals. It is by tasting them only that you can distinguish them from
rock crystal. As we advance, the impression grows overpowering. A plain
of dazzling whiteness surrounds us, and is prolonged far beyond our
ken. Dimly on the left may be perceived, like an indigo-coloured ribbon,
the line of the distant sea. The sky itself appears jet black. The
reverberation of sound is unendurable." Still further, between Suez and
Cairo, the same traveller speaks admiringly of a natural amphitheatre,
enclosed between two mountain-spurs, and strewn with _débris_ of rock,
and especially with petrified wood. It might be compared to a
forest-clearing which the woodmen had just quitted. The splinters are
quite fresh, the cloven fragments still expose the notches made by the
axe. Great trees, divided into beams, resemble long serpents which have
been slain by blows from a hatchet. The division is so clear that each
gash reveals the concentric tissues perfectly preserved by this mineral
embalming, this natural silification. Similar petrifactions may be seen
in abundance on the plateaux of the Makattam, and the amphitheatre now
described is not far from the hill, visited by every tourist, which has
received the name of the Petrified Forest.

Thus it appears that the Land Deserts, despite the proverbial monotony
of their aspect, do not fail to offer to the artist as well as the
savant, the philosopher no less than the historian, objects worthy of
patient study. Everywhere the handiwork of God and the evidences of
Almighty design awaken the admiration of the thoughtful. Whether the
picture be sombre or beautiful, grand or appalling, we see that it was
conceived and filled up by superhuman power. But we are now in Egypt, on
the threshold of the world's vast deserts. Egypt, kept alive by the
fertilizing and genial Nile, is but an island in the great ocean of sand
which encircles it, and which, far more truly than the Red Sea or the
Mediterranean, isolates it from the rest of the globe.



CHAPTER III.

THE NUBIAN DESERT--THE GREAT SAHARA--DESERTS OF AFRICA.


As soon as we pass beyond the narrow borders of the Nile valley we
encounter the Desert. Egypt _is_, in fact, the Nile; the Nile makes,
recreates, preserves, fecundates Egypt, which, without this grand and
ever-famous river, would immediately cease to be.

"Everything in Egypt," says Miss Martineau,[50] with equal truth and
eloquence, "life itself, and all that it includes, depends on the state
of the unintermitting conflict between the Nile and the Desert. The
world has seen many straggles; but no other so pertinacious, so
perdurable, and so sublime as the conflict of these two great powers.
The Nile, ever young, because perpetually renewing its youth, appears to
the inexperienced eye to have no chance, with its stripling force,
against the great old Goliath, the Desert, whose might has never relaxed
from the earliest days till now; but the giant has not conquered it. Now
and then he has prevailed for a season, and the tremblers whose destiny
hung on the event have cried out that all was over; but he has once more
been driven back, and Nilus has risen up again to do what we see him
doing in the sculptures--bind up his water-plants about the throne of
Egypt."

The traveller, ascending the famous river which has so long been mixed
up with an apparently insoluble geographical problem, sees the Desert
everywhere present; its yellow boundary-line is vividly traced against
the rich emerald-green of the fertile valley, and, as he advances, that
line seems to draw nearer and nearer, until the cultivated soil appears
reduced to a narrow strip on the river-bank. It has encroached upon many
once prosperous and busy sites, and buried deeply the memorials of the
old Egyptian civilization.

                "Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Everywhere outside the valley of the Nile, I repeat, lies the Desert.
West of the Arabian chain of heights stretch the vast sandy plains
frequented by the Arab tribes of the Beni-Wassel and the Arabdé. Beyond
the eastern chain spread the Libyan Deserts, which, in the remote
distance, merge into the Great Sahara, and those of the Thebaïd, where
the early Christian anchorites found a dismal asylum. Lower, to the
south of Egypt, extend the Deserts of Lower Nubia.

Let us ascend the Nile as far as Korosko, on the right bank of the
river, and cross the huge chain of rocky hills which separates the
cultivated zone from the Desert to which the village just spoken of
gives name. These hills, all of equal elevation, assume the form of
truncated cones. They are layers of granite superimposed horizontally,
and with a depth of colour which makes them resemble at the first glance
masses of basalt. They are absolutely bare, and separated from each
other by abrupt sinuous gorges, whose bottom is covered deep in sand of
golden lights, brought from the desert on the wings of the south-west.
Long streams of the same brilliant sand descend the slopes opposed to
the direction of the wind with graceful undulations, which subside
imperceptibly in the blown sand that carpets the floor of these
mysterious valleys. The crests of the hills can only be distinguished by
their different colours; some are lightly shaded with gray, others with
blue or green, and others again with rose or crimson. The reflets of the
setting sun on these uniform and many-coloured summits have a marvellous
splendour, lighting up the scene until it assumes a fairy aspect,

    "And all puts on a gentle hue,
     Hanging in the shadowy air,
     Like a picture rich and rare."

At certain times it would rather remind the spectator of another of
Coleridge's conceptions:

    "A savage place! as holy and enchanted
     As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
     By woman wailing for her demon-lover!"[51]

Yet the spectacle is generally one of a rare and peculiar loveliness.
"If nature," says M. Trémaux,[52] "had invested with this kind of beauty
our verdurous fields of the West, they would have been veritable Edens;
but to produce, blend, and harmonize these inimitable hues, it requires,
under the last beams of the sun, the emanations from the heated sands
and those which the day has called into existence from the burning
surfaces of the denuded rocks. It is by the side of her greatest horrors
nature places her grandest beauties."

The horror of the Desert does not lie only in its aridity, in its
vacuity--this vacuity is not absolute; in default of life, Death peoples
its solitudes. The glens or gorges frequented by the caravans are lined
with stones, symmetrically disposed at certain intervals. These stones
mark the places where rest the remains of the hapless pilgrims who have
attempted to cross the wilderness, and perished in the attempt. Round
and about each rugged tomb lie the skeletons of animals which none have
troubled themselves to bury in the sand. Frequently you may see, on the
sandy wastes of Africa, or the desolate plains of Asia and the New
World, these carcasses laid out in two interminable rows; indicating the
gloomy track which should be followed by the traveller, and never
failing to remind him of the tribute Death levies upon mankind in these
accursed regions. Thus does the Desert show itself more relentless than
even the hungry ocean, which at least devours its victims whole, and
affronts the eye with no traces of its murders. But the Moloch of the
Desert has no shame; it cynically exposes the hideous remains of those
whom it has killed; it strews the earth with their bones; it has its
museums of skeletons, or rather of preserved animals.

M. Trémaux observed this curious phenomenon in the ravines of Korosko,
but it probably occurs elsewhere under similar conditions. On closely
examining the carcasses which he met at every step, he was astonished to
find them covered with their skin, and presenting still their natural
forms, as if the animals had been stuffed or embalmed. He readily
distinguished horses, oxen, asses, camels. He observed with no less
surprise that these corpses exhaled no odour. They had been dried by the
heat before decomposition could commence its frightful work. The skin
had hardened; the muscles and internal organs had been reduced into dust
and gradually blown away by the wind through the yawning apertures at
the two extremities of the body. There remained nothing more, literally,
but skin and bone.

"This skin had such a consistency," says our author, "such a degree of
solidity, that all my efforts to split it were without result. The
heaviest stones which I could raise rebounded upon their carcasses with
a loud noise, but did not pierce them. If a man dies while a caravan is
on its march, he is buried in the sand. I have had no opportunity of
examining whether the desert-heat produces the same effect upon his body
as upon the corpses of the animals just mentioned; but it ought not to
be so, since the human skin has not the same consistency."

       *       *       *       *       *

On issuing from these gorges, we enter upon the Desert proper by a sandy
plain which the Djellahs have named the "River without Water," and
which, very low at first, slowly rises into a plateau of very slight
elevation, intersected by some veins of a sandstone similar to that of
the conical mountains. Then the plain declines anew, and we emerge upon
the Sea of Sand, where the pulverized sandstone alternates with fields
of rotted or broken pebbles, and mounds of porphyry and granite. At the
foot of one of these mounds, the _Tallat-el-Guindé_, flourish a few
wretched vegetables, among others some gum-trees and doum-palms. The
latter trees are also found in solitary mournfulness scattered about the
plain. Otherwise the _Desert of Korosko_ is wholly deprived of vegetable
life, of

    "The glory in the grass, and the splendour in the flower."

As for water, it must needs be content with that of a few brackish
wells, grouped, about twelve in number, at a spot called _El-Mourath_.
It is there only that the caravans can fill their ill-tanned
leather-bottles, in which the already nauseating liquid grows hot, and
quickly becomes putrid. Its stench and its taste are then so disgustful
that the very camels reject it several times before they can constrain
themselves to drink of it.

[Illustration: RAVINES OF KOROSKO.]

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Desert of Bahiouda_, situated in about the same latitude as that of
Korosko, but on the other bank of the Nile, is of a less absolute
aridity and nakedness. Water is more abundant and less brackish;
vegetation is less scanty; and one meets on every side with giraffes,
gazelles, wild cattle, and even, it is said, with lions and elephants.
Great numbers of reptiles, lizards, serpents, and tortoises inhabit the
sand and the crevices of the rocks.

       *       *       *       *       *

South of the above-named Deserts, towards 17° N. lat., is placed the
limit of the Rainless District. Under the 18th parallel the rains do not
last above one or two months in the year, and in some years are
absolutely wanting; but when they _do_ fall, it is generally in
impetuous torrents. As we advance towards the Equator they become more
regular, and last for longer periods. According to Humboldt, the average
yearly rainfall in 19° N. lat. measures 80 inches; under the equator, 96
inches. In these tropical climes the year is divided into two
seasons--one of excessive drought, and one of excessive rain. During the
former, the sky is ever cloudless; during the latter, completely
overcast.

There are, in fact, two rainless belts or districts, one on each side of
the Equator. In the old world, the northern belt commences on the west
side of Africa; includes the Sahara between 16° and 28° of latitude; and
narrowing as it extends easterly, comprises on the banks of the Nile
from 19° to 27°. It also embraces the low coast; and portions of the
interior of Arabia; passes through Beloochistan to the base of the
Himalayas, and terminates with the rainless tableland of Thibet. The
southern district occurs north of the Gareep or Orange River in South
Africa, and includes wide tracts in Australia, and a narrow belt in
South America.

Where the earth is blessed with copious showers, vegetation will abound;
grass, and herb, flower, bush, and tree;

            "Fields of grain
      Will bend their tops
    To the numberless beating drops."

To meet with the true Desert we must, therefore, direct our steps in a
north-westerly course, and penetrate into _The Sahara_.

M. Charles Martins, in his elaborate monograph on this remarkable
region, divides it into three distinct sub-regions: the _Desert of the
Table-lands_, the _Desert of Erosion_, and the _Sandy Desert_.[53]

In Algeria, and in Barbary generally, the Mediterranean littoral does
not come into immediate contact with the Sahara; but is separated from
it by the Atlas chain. But the Atlas does not rise abruptly from the
plain: on either side it ascends by a succession of rocky steps or
terraces, which form the sub-region of the elevated Table-lands. Vast
denuded surfaces, sprinkled with _chotts_, or salt lakes, deprived of
all arborescent vegetation, traversed in summer by immense herds which
feed on the plants even to their very roots, bare mountains starting
abruptly from these horizontal surfaces; such is the general aspect of
the landscape. The richly-varied culture of the Mediterranean littoral
has disappeared, and barley is the only cereal which the husbandman
relies upon for his harvest. At many points, however, the "purple vine"
and "golden olive" succeed admirably, and are destined one day to clothe
the nakedness of these plateaux which the free-pasturing herds and the
careless Arab have stripped of their blooming verdure.

Descending these rocky terraces of gray old Atlas, we enter the desert
region in its first phase: the Desert of the Table-lands, or Saharan
Steppe.

[Illustration: LANDSCAPE IN THE ATLAS (REGION OF TABLE-LANDS).]

Here, horizontal strata of mud and gypsum, or sulphate of lime, are
deposited upon the shores, as it were, of the great Sandy Sea. The
gypsum reposing on the mud is composed of plates in such close
juxtaposition as to resemble an artificial pavement. "It covers the
surface of vast plateaux which have not been encroached upon by the
waters; whether those waters were marine currents at the epoch when the
Sahara was a vast sea, or diluvian torrents which descended from the
mountains after their elevation, little matters; the gypsum, produced by
the violent evaporation of the Saharan sea, has withstood their
operation, and composes the plateaux of which we are speaking. Their
surface is so smooth, that vehicles might roll for leagues upon this
natural pavement, which echoes like a vault under the horses' hoofs.
A plateau of this kind, the small Desert of Mourad, extends from Biskra
to the banks of the great salt lake called _Chott Mebrir_ by the Arabs.
The gypseous surface is not everywhere exposed: most frequently it is
covered by a layer of small rounded pebbles, nearly all quartzose,
exhibiting the greatest variety of tints, from the purest white to the
most vivid red; they are mixed with black calcareous stones split on the
surface. Whence came these pebbles, which have evidently been 'rolled'
by the waters? We know not. They are the mysterious witnesses of those
grand diluvian torrents which have left the traces of their passage over
the surface of the whole earth, though the geologist cannot always
discover the mountains or rocks that furnished the materials of this
diluvium."[54]

From the Desert of the Table-lands we must needs make another descent.
The town of Batna is situated at the extremity of the lowest of the
Atlantean terraces, whose elevation is still some 3300 feet above the
level of the sea. To the north-west rise the lofty spires of the
colossal chain, with their diadems of cedars sharply defined in black
upon the azure of the sky. Loftiest of all soars the _Jebel-Tougour_, or
"Peak of Cedars," reminding the spectator of the Pyrenean crests.
Towards the south-east stretch the rounded shoulders of the mountains of
the Aurès, clad with dense dark forest of oak and pine. In a fold of the
mountains lurk the ancient Lambessa and the mouldering ruins of a Roman
camp. Four miles to the south of Batna is a large depressed hill, whose
base mingles with the table-land, above which it rises only three
hundred and thirty feet. This ridge marks the watershed; all the streams
on the north flowing towards the Mediterranean, and, on the south,
gradually disappearing in the arid bed of the ancient Saharan sea. On
the frontier line, like a Cyclopean landmark, is planted the Peak of
Cedars, while from its loins a torrent issues, and through a deep ravine
whirls and leaps and flows towards the desert. Springs, abundant and
warm, bubble up through the chalky marls, and take the same direction.
Beyond the French military post, called _Les Tamarins_, the road
descends the ravine-cloven mountain-slopes, and passes over the torrent
which bifurcates at the foot of the majestic Metlili. On the left is
seen a steep wall of rock, the Jebel-Gaouss, cleft midway by a chasm, or
breach, which the Arabs expressively designate "The Mouth of the
Desert," and which, gradually enlarging, opens upon the first oasis of
the Sahara, _El Kantara_ ("the bridge," from a Roman arch which spans
the torrent), the most northerly limit of the palm-tree. "A magnificent,
semi-alpine, semi-tropical scene. Below, a tumultuous foaming stream,
its banks on either side clad with palms bending their feathery foliage
towards the river, and sheltering fig, apricot, peach, almond, and
pomegranate trees."[55] Above, a range of snowy heights, wreathed in
ever ascending and descending clouds.

We now enter the Desert of Erosion, a mass of mountainous highlands; of
ridges, peaks, and _cols_, intersected and, as it were, gashed by
ravines where roll the winter torrents and the rivers which the heats of
summer dry up, and which, hollowing and gnawing into the stony soil,
spread themselves over the valleys and awake a transitory vegetation.
The erosive action of the waters is, then, the special characteristic of
this part of the desert, which the Arabs call _Kifar_, or "the abandoned
country." Most of the streams which water it have their sources in
Mounts Aurès and Zibans, which form its northern boundary. They have
excavated wide intermingling furrows, whose intervening spaces are
occupied by gypseous plateaux. The formations of less resisting power,
the marls, clays, and sands, have been washed away.

[Illustration: THE SAHARA (DESERT OF EROSION).]

The waters, whether proceeding from rain, or the melting of the snows on
the loftiest peaks, are very pure at first, and roll in deep beds with
vertical sides; when they reach the plains, their channels grow wider
and shallower. In the wet season, the floods burst the banks, and
overflowing, carry down immense quantities of rolled pebbles, which are
distributed over an extensive area; in ordinary weather they are reduced
to thin threads of silver, which, on arriving in the desert, vanish
completely. You must excavate the soil to obtain a supply of water, and
when found, it is brackish. Frequently the beds unite, forming basins of
greater or less extent and depth, which fill themselves at the close of
the winter floods, and a few of which preserve, even in the winter
season, a certain quantity of water. Elsewhere, the soil is only humid,
thanks to the abundance of salt, which retains the moisture. In such
places numerous slimy marshes occur, where the traveller may not
adventure without peril. But in general the surface is dry, cracked,
cloven, and completely parched.

The Desert of Erosion is not completely inhabited. At intervals you meet
with a few squalid villages, and a multitude of camel's-skin tents are
scattered like black spots over the yellow or grayish plains, on the
borders of the _chotts_ or scanty water-courses. Herds of goats and
flocks of sheep wander in the valleys, browsing on the rare short grass.
Columns of smoke arise from the Arab bivouacs, and the women of the
Sahara group themselves around the wells and springs to fill the
water-bags with which they load their asses.

When, from the summit of the rocks which fence round and bristle over
the Desert of Erosion, we perceive for the first time the _Desert of
Sand_, the impression is very similar to that which we derive from the
sight of ocean. M. Martins had already become sensible of this peculiar
effect when, from the Col de Sfa, he had gazed down upon the Desert of
the Plateaux. "A grand circular arch," he says, "extended before us,
bounding a violet surface, smooth as the sea, and blending at the
horizon with the azure of heaven; it was the Sahara. The arc eastward
rested against the chain of the Aurès; westward, against that of the
Zibans, some of whose offshoots, in the neighbourhood of Biskra, arose
like reefs upon that sea which seemed to have been frozen suddenly into
immobility. The actual sea ever trembles and shivers on the surface; a
light wavering, imperceptible to the eye, propels towards the shore the
expiring wave, fringed with a border of foam. Here, nothing like this
may be seen; it is a motionless, a congealed sea, or, rather, it is the
smooth bed of a sea whose waters have disappeared. Science teaches us
that such is the fact; and now as ever the expression of the reality is
more picturesque, more eloquent than all the comparisons created by the
imagination."[56]

An eminent French artist, M. Fromentin, whose skill with the pen equals
his talent with the brush, has also painted this "congealed sea" in
grand and poetic language. "The first impression," he says, "produced by
this glowing lifeless picture, composed of the sun, space, and solitude,
is keen, and cannot be compared to any other. Little by little, however,
the eye grows accustomed to the grandeur of the lines, to the emptiness
of space, to the denudation of the earth; and if anything can still
astonish, it is that one becomes sensible to effects which change so
little, and is so powerfully affected by spectacles in reality of the
simplest character."[58]

I must also enumerate among the "artists in words" who have painted the
wonders of the Sahara, General Daumas, not one of the least
distinguished of the Franco-Algerine warriors. He describes it in the
following language:--"It is a naked and barren immensity,--this sea of
sand, whose eternal waves, agitated to-day by the _choub_, will
to-morrow be heaped up immovable, and which are slowly furrowed by those
fleets called caravans."

General Daumas, it is evident, confines himself to the scientific
realism, which M. Martins prefers to the glowing and inexact imagery of
the poets, and conveys in a few words an accurate yet very picturesque
idea of that arid sea, where the wind stirs up rolling waves of sand
instead of foaming billows, and which the Arabs call _Falat_. I shall
place before the reader, however, the description given by M. Martins
himself, for it represents both the _ensemble_ and the details of the
picture.

"If the Desert of the Plateaux," he says,[57] "be the image of a sea
suddenly fixed during a level calm, the Desert of Sand represents to us
a sea which may have been solidified during a violent tempest. The
Dunes, or sand-hills, like waves, rise one behind another even to the
limits of the horizon, separated by narrow valleys which represent the
depressions of the great billows of the ocean, all whose various aspects
they simulate. Sometimes they narrow themselves into keen-edged crests,
or shoot upwards in pyramids, or swell into cylindrical domes. Seen from
a distance, these Dunes also remind us at times of the appearances of
the _névé_ (or granulated snow) in the amphitheatres and on the ridges
which lie contiguous to the loftiest Alpine summits. Their colours still
further enhance the illusion. Moulded by the winds, the burning sands of
the desert assume the same forms as the _névés_ of the glaciers."

Whoever has seen the Dunes on the coast of Norfolk, or more particularly
in Gascony, may gain a very accurate conception of the Desert. The only
notable differences are in the extent, which here seems infinite, like
that of ocean; the purity of the heaven, which is seldom sullied by a
cloud; and the colour, which is of a soft, intense blue. The nature of
the soil is the same; it is a very fine, shifting, silicious sand, white
sometimes, like that of Fontainebleau, and sometimes reddened by the
presence of oxide of iron. In the Sahara this sand gathers in veritable
Dunes, hillocks which the wind upheaves, displaces, and transforms from
one day to another. Only the _lettes_, or valleys, which in our Dunes
receive the pluvial waters and preserve a sufficient amount of
fertility, are here just moistened by rare saline infiltrations, and
almost always remain in a condition of absolute sterility. Nevertheless,
in some localities, the presence of gypsum gives the sand a certain
fixity, which permits a small number of plants to germinate and develop
themselves. This gypsum is never found but in the valleys, and never in
tabular masses, as on the plateaux, but only in crystals of various
forms, penetrated by silica. "You pick up a pebble," says M. Martins,
"and find it to be a crystal." The villages are surrounded by
crenellated ramparts built of crystals; the houses which compose these
villages are constructed of the same materials; and very weird and
splendid is the scene presented by these edifices with their
sun-illuminated walls. Notwithstanding their small dimensions and mean
architecture, when thus lit up in glorious radiance, they seem to
realize the wonders told in fairy tales of the enchanted palaces of the
genii!



CHAPTER IV.

PHENOMENA OF THE DESERT.


The desert has its own meteorology; it is the theatre of peculiar
phenomena, which one observes in no other part of the globe. Its
climate, at least in the sandy region, is remarkably uniform; it varies
only, according to latitude, in a greater or less elevated
thermometrical mean. Hippocrates, the ancient philosopher, rightly
called "the Father of Medicine," states the three elements of climate to
be, the atmosphere, the soil, and the waters. Throughout the desert
these are identically similar, and consequently originate identically
similar phenomena.

The atmosphere, in fact, is everywhere of an almost unchanging purity.
It is only in the neighbourhood of mountains that clouds accumulate, to
spend themselves at periodical seasons in more or less abundant rains.
In the plains it never rains, and during the day no veil is interposed
between the earth and the sun's burning glare, nor during the night do
any refreshing dews weaken the force of the terrestrial radiation. There
result constant alternations of devouring heat while the sun is above
the horizon, and of rapid and frequently intense cooling when he has
disappeared.

The soil is everywhere as smooth as "the liquid main." This uniformity
contributes, in addition to its silicious, argillaceous, or calcareous
character, to render more abrupt the changes of temperature which occur
from morning to evening and from evening to morning. In truth, the earth
reflects the sun's heat in proportion as it receives it; it absorbs but
insignificant quantities, which it loses in a few minutes when the
calorific source begins to fail. On the other hand, in these immense
plains where no inequality of surface can oppose the atmospheric
movements, the wind acquires an increasing force and swiftness, _vires
acquirit eundo_, and soon assumes all the characteristics of a tempest.
Hence arise those terrible typhoons, those appalling hurricanes, of
whose destructive effects history records so many instances, and of
which I shall presently be called upon to speak. As for water, we have
seen that its entire absence is a characteristic feature of the Sandy
Desert.

To sum up, an overpowering degree of heat during the day,--a freshness,
often even an excessive cold, during the night (in the Sahara the
thermometer frequently rises above 120° F. at noon, and not infrequently
sinks below 32° about two or three o'clock A.M.); an ever transparent
and azure sky,

    "Darkly, deeply, beautifully blue;"

the absence of rains and dews, of gales and thunder; but a frequent
recurrence of terrible hurricanes: such is the meteorological
constitution of the arid zone, which embraces all the northern districts
of Africa, except the Mediterranean region--that is, from the snowy
heights of Atlas to the fertile pastures of Soudan--and which extends in
Asia from the west to the north-east, for all but one narrow belt, as
far as the 119th meridian of longitude.

       *       *       *       *       *

Foremost among the phenomena peculiar to this zone we must place those
famous tempests which, in default of humid clouds, traverse with
startling swiftness the changing surface of the Desert, driving before
them whirlwinds of burning sand, and striking the traveller's heart with
a sense of unconquerable awe. The wind of the Desert is called by the
Arabs the _choum_ or _khamsin_; but is more generally known in European
books as the _Simoun_, _Simoom_, or _Samoun_. It is the _Samiel_ of the
Turks; and, under a somewhat milder form, the _Scirocco_ of the
Mediterranean. Wherever, or however it blows, it is a pernicious and
hateful wind; the blast, in all probability, which destroyed the hosts
of Sennacherib at the bidding of the Divine Word,--

    "The angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
     And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed.
     And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
     And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still."

Torrents of burning sand sweep before it, a thick veil of darkness
envelopes the firmament, and the sun assumes a blood-red hue.

                        "That crimson haze
    By which the prostrate caravan is awed
    In the red desert when the wind's abroad."[58]

When the Simoom rises, says M. Martins,[59] the air is filled with dust
of such extreme fineness that it makes its way through objects
hermetically sealed, penetrates into the eyes, the ears, and the organs
of respiration. A burning heat, like that which breathes from the mouth
of a furnace, possesses the air, and paralyzes the strength of men and
animals. Seated on the sand, with their backs turned to windward, the
Arabs, wrapped in their burnous, wait with fatalistic resignation the
end of the torment; their camels crouching, exhausted, panting, stretch
their long necks upon the scorching soil. Seen through this powdery
haze, the sun's disc, shorn of its beams, shows pale and ghastly as that
of the moon.

Fortunately, the phenomenon never prevails over any very considerable
area, and beyond its limits the atmosphere remains serene and calm; so
that travellers who have watched it approaching in the form of a reddish
cloud, without being able to calculate on its direction, have often
escaped with no worse result than a panic, and have only witnessed its
terrible effects at a distance.

It must not, however, be confounded with the sand-storms which the
pilgrim encounters in the Arabian Desert, and which seem confined to
that region. Dean Stanley, on his route from Suez to Sinai, met with one
which prevailed the whole day. "Imagine," he says, "the caravan toiling
against this,--the Bedouins each with his shawl thrown completely over
his head, half of the riders sitting backwards,--the camels, meantime
thus virtually left without guidance, though from time to time throwing
their long necks sideways to avoid the blast, yet moving straight
onwards with a painful sense of duty truly edifying to behold. Through
the tempest, this roaring and driving tempest, which sometimes made me
think that this must be the real meaning of 'a _howling_ wilderness,' we
rode on the whole day."[60]

A French cavalier, M. Trémaux, while crossing the Desert of Korosko, had
the good fortune to witness the course of a Simoom, while himself in a
position of safety.

It was the 8th of February 1848. The horizon in the south-west wore a
hue of the evillest augury. Gusts of wind, which seemed to have issued
from some red-hot brazier, beat in the face of the travellers. The
camel-drivers, accustomed to interpret these sinister signs, and assured
that a tempest was at hand, felt themselves called upon to give M.
Trémaux a few counsels, which were by no means reassuring.

"As soon as the storm darkens the air," said one of them, "by
surrounding us with a cloud of sand, we must throw ourselves prone on
the ground, wrap our heads in our finest stuffs, to protect our
respiration from this sand, which burns the throat. It will be useless
to trouble ourselves about the camels; they will lie down of their own
accord, bend their head against their burden, and never stir so long as
the tempest lasts. If the sand accumulates by our side, we must move in
such a manner as to prevent it from covering us, making it roll under
itself, but without exposing our heads. Remember these things carefully;
and the will of God be done!"

"That is not all," added another; "when the water-bags are partly
shrunken, as are ours at this moment, and the Khamsin blows for some
time, it finishes by completely drying them up."

Thus warned, M. Trémaux was compelled to face, with all the resignation
he was capable of, the melancholy alternative of perishing suffocated by
the sand, or, a little later, of succumbing to the tortures of thirst.
He continued to journey, or rather to drag himself towards the centre of
the choking atmosphere, and to watch the scourge which rapidly drew
near. This lasted a couple of hours, after which the travellers had the
satisfaction of seeing the Simoom glide by on their right, and depart
with the same rapidity.

A column of the French army, commanded by the Dukes of Aumale and of
Montpensier, had met with a less happy chance on the 7th of March 1844,
in the Souf, or Algerine Sahara; it was attacked by a Simoom, which
prolonged its furious assaults during fourteen hours. On the day
following, M. Fournel, a mining engineer who accompanied the expedition,
ascertained that the meteor had swept but a narrow zone parallel to the
Aurès range, and that at the mountain base the tranquillity of the
atmosphere had been undisturbed.

The Simoom, or Khamsin, is, however, more troublesome and painful than
really dangerous. M. Martins speaks of the annihilated army of Cambyses,
the Persian king, which perished in the Libyan Desert (B.C. 524),[61]
and of whole caravans engulfed in the sepulchral sands. "The numerous
skeletons of camels," he adds, "which we met with on our way prove that
these catastrophes are still of frequent occurrence." It is more
probable, however, that they died from dearth of water and want of food.
As for the Persian host, it was probably swallowed up in one of those
quicksands, those hidden treacherous gulfs, which are found in the
deserts of Libya, as well as in those of Persia and Arabia. The evil
effects of the Simoom have, in fact, been exaggerated by the Arabs,
whose highly-coloured narratives have been too easily adopted by
credulous travellers. It heats the blood, it dries the skin, it
renders respiration troublesome; but it does not kill.

[Illustration: A FRENCH COLUMN IN ALGIERS SURPRISED BY THE SIMOOM.]

[Illustration: WHIRLWINDS OF SAND (SAND-SPOUTS).]

It is not always a single wind which blows in the Deserts; but sometimes
two or three currents, from opposite directions, cross and clash and
drive against one another with increasing fury. Then is produced the
singular phenomenon of the sand-spout, often witnessed on a magnificent
scale in the sandy plains of Eastern Asia and Southern America. The sand
is not now driven in voluminous masses in a rectilineal direction; but
raised aloft in the form of long tortuous columns, which whirl to and
fro like gigantic spectres in the mazes of a wild demon-dance. At the
same time, the azure of the sky grows pale and troubled, the sun's
light obscured, the boundaries of the horizon seem to meet together; the
burning dust held in suspension in the air renders it irrespirable, and
if one of these whirlwinds encounters any object which offers a
resistance, it carries it upward and hurls it a considerable distance.
Fortunately the phenomenon is one of brief duration. The atmospheric
equilibrium is speedily restored; the heavens recover their serenity;
the atmosphere grows clear, and the sand columns, falling in upon
themselves, form a number of little hills or cones, apparently
constructed with great care, like those mimic edifices of sand or snow
built up by children in their pastimes.

It is said that these furious whirlwinds have occasionally engulfed
whole caravans in their tremendous vortex,--

    "Man mounts on man, on camels camels rush,
     Hosts march on hosts, and nations nations crush;
     Wheeling in air the wingèd islands fall,
     And one great sandy ocean covers all."

Whether this be true or not, there can be no doubt that the spectacle is
one of great magnificence, and calculated to inspire the traveller with
emotions of awe and dread. Mr. Atkinson describes it as seen by him, on
one occasion, when traversing the Mongolian Desert:--

"As we passed," he says,[62] "in the middle of a space sown with
innumerable hillocks of sands, we saw about thirty of them suddenly
raise themselves around us, lengthen into long elliptical columns, and
glide with many a whirl and sweep over the surface of the Desert with
the hissings and contortions of gigantic serpents which had awakened at
our approach. These spouts, for the phenomenon was no other, varied in
diameter; the smallest measured between twenty and thirty feet; a few
attained to a hundred; and one, which absorbed in its vortex all that it
approached, rose to nearly two hundred. One might have said, on seeing
them bending, rising again and crossing one another in space amidst an
atmosphere of dust, that they were antediluvian monsters emerging from
their geological bed, and returning into the feverish activity of
existence. But soon, the atmospheric forces which had raised them
beginning to fail, we saw these sand-spouts fall away one after another,
and form on the surface of the Desert a number of moving hillocks
similar to those from which we had just emerged."

       *       *       *       *       *

The poet, invoking the judgment of Heaven on the traitor, would fain
doom him to the misery of cherishing hopes that shall never be realized.
"May he," cries the minstrel--

    "May he, at last, with lips of flame,
     On the parched desert thirsting die,
     While lakes that shone in mockery nigh
     Are fading oft, untouched, untasted."[63]

The image here is borrowed from that most singular phenomenon of the
Desert, the _Mirage_; an atmospheric illusion due to the refraction of
the sun's rays upon the sand, and the intense expansion of the lower
strata of the air,--in other words, it arises from the total reflection
of the rays of light from the lower surface of a stratum of air. "This
occurs when, from any cause, such a stratum of air possesses a higher
refractive power than the one immediately below it. Such a condition of
the atmosphere causes remote objects to be seen as if reflected in a
mirror, or to appear as if suspended in the air. When the effect is
confined to apparent elevation, the English sailors call it _looming_;
when inverted images are formed, the Italians give it the name of _Fata
Morgana_. The Arabs call it _Serab_, or _Suhrab_, the 'Water of the
Desert;' and the Hindus, _Tchittram_, or 'the Picture.'"

The effects of the illusion are extraordinary, but undoubtedly they are
heightened by the imagination of observers, generally over-excited by
fatigue, by privations, or sometimes by fever. These causes contribute
to vary the nature of the phenomenon as seen by different eyes. Thus
some gaze enraptured on verdurous islands bright as Armida's enchanted
garden, with feathery palms and blooming flowers, and delicious
sparkling lakes; others see, in that dim far-off which is never reached,
the laughing waves of ocean, with ships resting calmly at anchor, or

    "Veering up and down, they know not why,"

and camels browsing quietly upon its shores; others, again, see before
them the rolling river, its banks studded with groves and palaces; and
all this, while there is not a solitary real object on the horizon whose
presence might serve in some degree as a foundation for their visions.
It is the very phantasmagoria of nature; her wildest, most wayward, and
most fantastic sport. The reflection of the sky, modified by the
inequalities of the soil and the vibratory movements of the air, can
alone account for the singular deception. Imagination shows its victim,
in the reflected image of the cloudless sky, a sheet of water, which is
variously taken for a sea, a lake, or a river; it invests the slightest
objects on the earth's surface with forms, colours, and dimensions,
which are easily metamorphosed into houses, ships, men, animals; and it
seems certain that those which in Nubia our fancy converts into camels
would, in the Soudan, be transformed into elephants, and at Venice into
gondolas. Imagination makes us its dupes, and gives to airy nothings

    "A local habitation and a name."

It becomes absolutely necessary, therefore, to distinguish these wholly
personal illusions born of a heated brain, from those which are really
due to a definite physical cause. The latter necessarily suppose the
existence of _actual objects_, below or very little above the horizon.
Under such conditions, the most frequent illusion is that which shows
the sky or rocks reflected in the expanse of rarified air superincumbent
on the earth's surface, and which through this cause alone resembles
water. It is then that the ignorant or inexperienced traveller,
overwhelmed with fatigue and devoured by thirst, hastens his eager steps
to reach more quickly that limpid water, where he hopes to refresh and
reinvigorate himself, but which flies before his advance, and speedily
vanishes altogether. Sometimes it is an inverted representation of
terrestrial objects which appears in the air; or rather, these same
objects, several times reflected, appear to multiply themselves. M.
Trémaux relates that he saw the latter form of mirage in Nubia. He
observed a row of doum-palms, which were about two thousand yards
distant, repeated in several similar rows, each with a like number of
trees, so as to produce the effect of a quincunx; among these trees
floated several seeming sheets of water.

[Illustration: A MIRAGE IN THE DESERT.]

We must remember, moreover, that the immensity, uniformity, and vacuity
of the Desert, singularly contribute to render optical illusions
frequent. The very serenity of the air assists in destroying the
perspective to which we are accustomed in temperate climates, which are
always more or less misty. Objects appear much nearer than they are in
reality, because they are more distinctly visible, and also because
nothing intervenes between them and the observer. Their dimensions, too,
become arbitrary, for want of standards of comparison by which to
measure them. So the trees and the mountains where the weary traveller
hopes to obtain a temporary repose and a passing shelter from the
Pythian's fiery arrows, seem constantly to recede before him, like the
rainbow when pursued by the ignorant peasant; and, until experience has
taught him to rectify the apparent testimony of his senses, he is
doomed, like Tantalus, to be the victim of continual deceptions,--

    "Ev'n in the circling floods refreshment craves,
     And pines with thirst amidst a sea of waves;
     When to the water he his lip applies,
     Back from his lip the treacherous water flies."[64]

Nor is this all; hunger, thirst, weariness, and especially the action of
the solar heat upon the brain, determine a peculiar pathological
condition, a species of mental intoxication or delirium which powerfully
predisposes the victim to hallucinations, and deprives the mind of that
self-control which would enable it to chase away the phantoms that haunt
it. To this affection, whose symptoms are frequently but erroneously
confounded with those of the mirage, the Arabs have given a specific
name. They call it _Ragle_. A distinguished French traveller has
described it with exhaustive fulness,[65] and he attributes it to
fatigue, excessive heat, and want of sleep.

It shows itself most commonly at night, and in dreams, attacks of
nightmare, and a somnambulism of which the sufferer is perfectly
conscious, without being able to throw it off. By day strange
hallucinations affect the sight, the hearing, and even, though less
powerfully, the senses of taste and smell. The aberration extends, as
far as the sight is concerned, to the objects which we are in the habit
of seeing; a small stone, for instance, expands into a rock; the rut of
a carriage-wheel enlarges into the furrow of a freshly ploughed field; a
tuft of grass or a bush will assume the grand proportions of a forest;
and, what is remarkable, these objects seem always close at hand.
Another frequent error is the elevation of horizontal surfaces; the
horizon becomes a wall or a mountain. "It has happened to myself," says
M. d'Escayrac, "to meet with walls constantly reappearing before me. My
extended arm has plunged into the masonry, but my body never encountered
any obstacle; the rampart opened to give me a free passage."

Hearing is, in its turn, affected. Then, any sound whatsoever, such as a
footfall, the blow of a stone, the whisper of the wind, is changed into
melodious sounds, keen cries of distress, the murmur of woods, the
harmony of familiar songs.

One day, says M. d'Escayrac, I heard the click-clack of a village mill.
Endeavouring to collect my senses, and to obtain an explanation of the
sound, I perceived that it arose from the clink of my sword-belt against
the pommel of my saddle, to which I had buckled my sabre.

Jomard, the savant, who experienced the effects of the ragle during his
travels in Egypt, confirms in every respect the foregoing description.
On his way from Rosetta to Alexandria, he kept along the border of the
sea, and found his feet painfully staggering in the thick fine sand.
Such a journey is necessarily one of extreme fatigue. After the first
night, this fatigue grew overwhelming; the traveller lost all accurate
perception of objects, or of the form of places. The surface of the lake
Medeah appeared not so much a sheet of water as a monotonous plain.
Constantly pressing forward, he maintained a hard fight against the
overpowering sense of slumber. Half-asleep, half-awake, his brain was
dazzled with the most fantastic phantoms, and the hallucination was so
great that he plunged into the lake before him, without perceiving it,
though the water was very deep. But the freshness caused by the
evaporation of the water warned him of his error, and the vision
suddenly passed away.

Such being the phenomena of the Desert, one can understand the dreary
picture which Dante paints in his "Inferno," of--

                                "The plain
    Which from its bed rejecteth every plant;"

whose soil is--

    "Of an arid and thick sand;"

and where--

                    "With a gradual fall
    Are raining down dilated flakes of fire.
    As of the snow on Alp, without a wind."[66]



CHAPTER V.

VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE DESERT:--THE OASES.


The _Flora_ of a region where nature provides no genial fertilizing
rains, and whose soil is simply a shifting sand, moistened only in
certain places by a brackish water, must necessarily be one of extreme
poverty.

It is reduced very nearly, as we have seen, to a few plants of the genus
_Salsola_ (salt-wort), flourishing on the borders of the salt pools and
lakes. Nevertheless, at a few points, where a certain degree of fixity
obtains in the sand, we meet with the thornless bushes or shrubs, the
_Ephedra alata_ and the _retama Durioei_; some pistachios (_pistacia
lentiscus_ and _p. terebinthus_); the "drin" (_aristida pungens_), a
tall grass, with linear leaves, some seven feet high, to which the camel
is very partial; and the "ézel," a member of the family of Polygonaceæ,
which botanists class with the allied buckwheat and knot-grasses, and
which attains the stature of three to four feet. The latter plant throws
out roots, which are generally uncovered, to a distance of twenty to
twenty-five feet; its woody stem spreads in its upper portion into
gnarled branches, terminated each by a cluster of green, cylindrical and
leafless twigs, which fall during winter. Elsewhere rise the tall trunks
of the doum-palms, either isolated or assembled in scanty clumps, under
which the traveller obtains with difficulty a modicum of shade, but
which are otherwise of no value to him.

In districts where the surface is more broken up, notably in Palestine,
on the banks of the Jordan and the Dead Sea; in the Sinaitic Peninsula
of Arabia; in the Nubian deserts of Naga, Aredah, and Bahiouda; finally,
even in the Sahara, in the "Desert of Erosion," and the table-land
region, vegetable life becomes more abundant and more varied, though
still but of mediocre interest. However, a curious arbustus, the
_Limioniastrum Guyonianum_, shows itself very frequently in these damp
localities, where it attains sometimes the dimensions of a tree. Its
attenuated leaves are covered with saline efflorescence, and its
particles of rosy flowers relieve the monotony of the wilderness. In the
permanent salt marshes, or _chotts_, some of the plants are analagous to
those formed in the bogs of Languedoc.

Among the plants of the Desert I must not forget the rose of Jericho
(_Anastatica hierochuntica_),[67] an annual which contracts itself into
a ball, and, blown about by the breeze, seems a dead and withered mass
of twigs. But plunge it into water, and it expands, regains the bloom of
life, affording a remarkable example of what is called "revivification."
The fable respecting it is, that the first time it ever bloomed was on
the eve of the Nativity, and that its flower remained open until Easter.

Several other vegetable species grow on the table-lands of the Algerine
Sahara, which are found elsewhere under similar conditions of soil and
climate. They are thorny shrubs and underwood, almost wholly belonging
to the family of Salsolaceæ, or littoral plants, which only thrive on
ground impregnated with salt; there are also sub-frutescent plants,
partly dried up by the sun. In some places the nakedness of the earth
is concealed by the bloom of geraniums and heliotropes. Further, you may
notice in the region of the table-lands, the _Melantha punctuata_, a
member of the Colchicum tribe, which bears a bouquet of very white
flowers grown upon the sand, and surrounded by a crown of ensheathed
leaves. Not unworthy of rejoicing the eyes of the most fastidious
connoisseurs, it lives and dies unknown in the solitudes of the Sahara.

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE DESERT.

1. Jujube Tree. 2. Lentiscus. 3. Tamarisk.]

In the hollows, where the earth preserves some degree of humidity, a
fine soft sward prevails, of the most delicious emerald green; two
herbs, the Alfa (_stipa tenacissima_) and the White Wormwood
(_artemisia alba_),[68] often cover extended areas; the jujube trees
clothe themselves in profuse foliage; the coloquinta stretches over the
ground its branches loaded with spherical fruit; and the tamarisk,
developed into a tree, waves in the wind its tufts of snowy and
rose-hued flowers. It is in these meadows that the Arab rears his tent
and pastures his flocks under a winter sky. The industrious and
sedentary tribes seek in the oases a more benignant nature,--

                          "The yellow down
    Bordered with palm, and many a winding vale
    And meadow;"

and a soil which will repay their toil with liberal harvests. And it is
there only, in truth, that vegetation presents a development, a
continuity, and sometimes even a variety, which recalls the fortunate
countries of the Mediterranean region.

The old geographer, Ptolemæus, compared the Sahara to a panther's skin,
sprinkled with black spots on a tawny ground. These spots which, by an
effect of contrast, are set off in black on the yellowish tint of the
desert, are the far-famed oases, which have furnished our poets and
romancists with so many an appropriate image. Ptolemy's comparison is
the more accurate because these islands of verdure scattered over the
sandy ocean,

    "Like precious stones set in a silver sea,"

have, in general, a circular form. We must except, however, the grandest
and most beautiful of all, Egypt. That immemorial land of mystery and
power is enchased in the Desert region like any other oasis, and only
differs in its greater extent and more elongated figure. It stretches
along the Nile like a ribbon--

    "And Egypt joys beneath the spreading wave."

Its length, from Cairo to Assouan, is 450 miles. Its breadth does not
exceed nine to twelve miles, except at Cairo, where it measures about
eighty miles along the sea-coast, which forms the base of a triangular
district known as the Delta ([Greek: delta]) of the Nile. The two other
angles are marked by the cities of Pelusium and Alexandria. This long
strip of fertility is narrowly shut in between deserts of almost
incredible sterility.

A peculiarity worthy of attention, because it is the unique cause of the
fertility of Egypt, is, that the valley of the Nile, instead of sloping
down on either side to the river-bank, assumes a gently convex form. It
is owing to this slight convexity that, at the epoch of the
inundation--beginning in June and ending in October--the Nile waters
overflow to the right and to the left, rest upon the soil, and there
deposit their precious mud. How different the aspects of the country at
different seasons of the year! First, the bright sparkling sheets of
far-spreading and fertilising water; then the emerald green of the
growing crops; lastly, the ripe warm yellow hues of the full harvest.
Well might Amrou, the Arab conqueror of Egypt, remark to the Caliph
Omar, that, "according to the vicissitudes of the seasons, the face of
the country is adorned with a _silver_ wave, a verdant _emerald_, and
the deep _gold_ of an abundant harvest."

The soil of Egypt is, then, simply an alluvium mixed with the sand which
the winds bring from the Desert. Its aspect is that of a rich,
well-cultivated land, but bears the impress of a wearisome monotony. You
see there neither the dark dense forest, the rolling prairie, nor the
undulating woodland; from the shore of the Mediterranean to the tropics
you meet everywhere with the same cultivation; the same mud-built
villages, with their dirty and winding streets; and ever the same clumps
of palms, which would end by becoming tedious if it were not that their
elegance of form invests them with an eternal beauty--if a glorious
radiance did not gild with "refined gold" everything it touches--if,
finally, an after-glow of wondrous loveliness, of which the eye and soul
can never weary, which whenever seen suggests some new and subtle
emotions, did not terminate every day by a crepuscular pomp of
indescribable magnificence.

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE DESERT.

1. Doum-Palm. 2. Date-Palm. 3. Alfa (_Stipa tenacissima_).]

The Palm-tree is, in Egypt, as in all the oases, the principal element
of the arborescent vegetation. But you also meet there with the banana,
the gum-tree, the orange, the jujube, the mulberry, the sycamore, and
other tall trees, which were planted by command of Mehemet Ali, and have
perfectly succeeded. The green banks of the river are diversified by
coppices of acacias and tamarisks. In the Fayoum district bloom
impervious hedges of cactus, and plantations of roses for the production
of rosewater. Cereals yield four crops a-year; flax, hemp, indigo,
cotton, the sugar-cane, prosper admirably; and under a climate where
ice, snow, and hail are unknown, not a month but has its burden of
flowers and fruits. Abundant crops of vegetables are raised, even as in
those days when the Israelites in the wilderness bewailed "the
cucumbers and the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlics" of
Egypt.

       *       *       *       *       *

M. Charles Martins classes the Oases of the Sahara under three heads,
corresponding to his three sub-regions.[69]

The oasis of the Table Lands is watered by a stream or a copious spring.
That of the valleys of Erosion, by natural or artificial Artesian wells.
That of the Sandy Desert wants water. In the latter the palm-trees are
planted in conical cavities hollowed by the hand of man, that their
roots may strike down to the subterranean reservoir which is to nourish
them.

Every oasis is composed, in the main, of date-palms, which seem to form
a continuous forest; but in reality they are planted in rows, and in
gardens separated from one another by walls of earth, which are pierced
with an aperture to admit of the entrance of the irrigating rill into
the enclosed square. The soil employed in the construction of the walls
is removed from the paths, which are consequently below the surface, and
can be employed for a double purpose; they facilitate circulation in the
oases, and the waters, after having refreshed the gardens and revived
the soil, discharge themselves into these hollow ways, whence they flow
towards the chotts, or stagnate in swamps, which the lethargic Moslem
never thinks of draining. From such hotbeds of infection issues the
monster Fever every year, and slays its hundreds.

In case of need, every oasis becomes a fortress. Each "square of flowery
ground" is a redoubt; the assailant's bullet lodges in the earth wall,
or if it pierces through, forms a new loophole in which the Arab plants
his gun to aim at his enemy. The villages themselves are encircled with
walls, flanked by towers, which remind the spectator of the picturesque
fortifications of mediæval times.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Date-Palm (_Phoenix dactylifera_) is _the_ tree of the Desert;
there only will its fruits ripen; without it, the Desert would be
uninhabitable and uninhabited. Arab poesy represents it as a living
being, created by God on the sixth day, at the same time as man. To
express under what conditions it prospers, the imagination of the
Saharan exaggerates the true, to render it the more palpable. "This king
of the oasis," he says, "must plunge his feet in the water and raise his
head in the fire of heaven." Science, to a certain extent, confirms this
seeming hyperbole; for it needs 5100° of heat accumulated during eight
months for the date to ripen its fruit perfectly. If the sum of heat be
less, the fruits set, but they do not grow to their full dimensions,
remain bitter to the taste, and fail in the sugar and farina, which form
their nutritive properties.

These conditions are realized in the climate of the Sahara. The mean
temperature of the year averages from sixty-eight to seventy-six
degrees, according to the locality. The heat commences in April, and
does not cease until October. The thermometer seldom sinks in the cold
season more than two degrees below zero, and the date can endure six
degrees below zero.

Rain, as already stated, is rare in the Sahara; it falls in winter, and
stimulates into a newly awakened life the vegetation which has been
drained of vigour by a summer sun. Sometimes they descend in torrents,
but these torrents, like our summer showers, are of briefest duration.
At Tongourt and Ouraegla whole years pass by without a drop of rain.
Does not the reader understand, then, the gratefulness of the Arabs
towards a tree which can derive its nourishment from the burning sand,
the scarcely less burning airs of heaven, and the brackish waters
beneath the soil which are fatal to all other kinds of vegetation--which
retains its verdure fresh in the glare of a pitiless sun--which resists
successfully the winds that bow to the ground its flexible stem--which
provides him with beams and coverings for his tent, cordage for the
harness of his horses and camels, fruit to satisfy his hunger and wine
to quench his thirst--which is, moreover, "a thing of beauty," and
gladsome to the eye?

    "Those groups of lovely date-trees bending
       Languidly their leaf-crowned heads,
     Like youthful maids, when sleep descending,
       Warns them to their silken beds."[70]

What the vine is to the Italian, the oak to the Englishman, the
cocoa-nut tree to the Polynesian, is the date-palm to the Arab. And
more--far more. This single tree has peopled the Desert. A civilization,
rudimentary compared with that of the West, sufficiently advanced if you
contrast it with that of the Malay or the South Sea Islander, finds in
it its standing-point, its centre, its support. And without it the
tribes of the Sahara would cease to be.[71]

The wealth of an oasis is computed by the number of its palm trees. All
of them, however, are not fruitful; for the date is dioecious. It has
its males and its females. The males have flowers furnished with stamens
only, and form a closed-up, folded, grape-like ball, previous to the
ripening of the pollen in an envelope called the spathe. The females, on
the contrary, bear clusters of fruit also wrapped up in a spathe, but
incapable of development until fecundated by the pollen or dust of the
stamens. To multiply the date-trees, the Arabs do not sow the kernels of
the fruits, though they germinate with extreme facility, for it is
impossible to tell beforehand of what sex the tree will be; they prefer,
therefore, to detach a slip from the trunk of a female tree, and this
becomes fruitful at the expiry of eight years.

The male trees blossom, says Mr. Tristram,[72] in the month of March,
and about the same time the case containing the female buds begins to
open. To impregnate these, a bunch of male flowers is carefully inserted
and fastened in the calyx. Towards the beginning of July, when the fruit
begins to swell, the bunches are tied to the neighbouring branches.

The dates are ripe in October, at which time any premature rain is fatal
to the crop, though the _roots_ require a daily watering. Not less
injurious are east winds in March and April. The tree when it begins to
bear is about seven feet high. Each year the lowest ring of leaves falls
off, so that the age of a palm may be roughly computed from the notches
on its stem. Its fruit begins to decline after a century, and the tree
is then cut down for building purposes; but it will live for at least a
couple of hundred years. Some trees produce as many as twenty bunches,
but the average in a favourable season is from eight to ten bunches,
each weighing from twelve to twenty pounds. Before the dates ripen, each
proprietor is bound to set apart one tree in his garden, whose fruit is
consecrated for the service of the mosque and the use of the poor.

From the juice of the date the Arab obtains a sweet fermented liquor,
called "laguni," of which he is inordinately fond. He makes an incision
in the top of the tree, taking care to strike home to the centre. A
funnel is attached, by which the sap flows into a vessel at the rate of
about three quarts every morning for ten to sixteen days. The incision
requires to be opened afresh daily.

The cabbage, or soft pith and young unfolded leaves at the summit of the
stem, in taste approaching the chestnut, is also eaten, but only when
the tree has fallen or been felled, as the loss of its crown invariably
destroys it.

There are fifteen varieties of dates, of which the _dghetnour_ is
considered the best for keeping, and three other kinds are preferred
fresh.

The crest of the full-grown trees rises about fifty feet above the
ground. The air circulates freely under the leafy canopy formed by their
interlacing branches, but the sun's rays do not penetrate. Shade, air,
and water--these three elements permit the most varied cultivation in
the palm-gardens, despite the scorching heats of summer. The fruit trees
which flourish are the fig, the pomegranate, the apricot; less
frequently, the vine and the olive; still more rarely, the peach, the
pear, and the orange. Vegetables are commonly cultivated during winter;
such as turnips, cabbages, onions, carrots, beans, and pimento
(_Capsicum annuum_), an indispensable condiment for those Arab sauces
(_merga_) destined to stimulate the digestive energies of a people who
abstain from alcoholic liquors. You may also remark pumpkins, gourds,
and water-melons; small squares of lucerne, which yield as many as eight
crops yearly; the henna (_Lawsonia inermis_), which tints with yellow
the nails of the Arab women; and tobacco (_Nicotiana rustica_),
cultivated most largely in the Souf. In winter you may refresh your eyes
in the clearings of the oasis with verdurous fields, green with barleys
and early wheats springing vigorously from the earth. The cultivation of
cotton, though considerably stimulated by the failure of the usual
supply from the Southern States of America, is still in its infancy.
There can be little doubt, however, that with improved methods of
irrigation it will be considerably and successfully developed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The oases of the table-land region, fertilized, as we have already seen,
by the streams of fresh water which flow down from the mountains and
spread abroad in natural or artificial channels, are much the most
fertile, and also the most healthy. They possess, moreover, the
inestimable advantage of being but a short distance from the
Mediterranean region, in a country less arid and less desolate than the
remainder of the Desert. I may name, among these oases, those of
El-Kantara, Biskra, and El-Outaïa, which form a sort of chaplet, and are
watered by the same river.

The oasis of El-Kantara is the first we encounter on quitting the
Mediterranean region to penetrate into the Sahara through the gloomy and
precipitous ravine entitled "The Mouth of the Desert." It is situated
1800 feet above the sea-level. Its length is 5000 yards. Fournel, the
first geologist who examined it (in 1864), christened it the Hyères of
the Sahara. Its temperature is cool and equable, and does but just
suffice to enable the dates to ripen. It possesses upwards of 76,000
palm-trees, sheltering under their leafy shadow legions of apricots,
pomegranates, and fig-trees. In the centre of this pleasant and fruitful
shade houses of brick, with flat roofs and narrow loop-holed windows,
surround a square tower. The ancient watch-towers have fallen into
decay. Before France took under its "protection" the peaceful Berbers
who cultivate the oasis, these towers were useful as posts of
observation whence to descry the approach of the wandering Arabs, who
resort in summer to the pastures of the mountains, and in winter to
those of the Sahara.

       *       *       *       *       *

As a type of the oasis of the Desert of Erosion, let us take that of
Ouargla, the last which submitted to the French in South Algeria.

[Illustration: A Street in Ouargla.]

It is situated in a profound hollow. In form it is elliptical, with its
major axis measuring about five thousand yards, and its minor about
three thousand. The palms are planted at the rate of ten to eleven
hundred a hectare (two acres); they attain to extraordinary dimensions,
and their dense foliage over-arches a small world of fruit trees.
Outside the gardens grow some wild date-palms, which yield a smaller
crop, but whose fruit is much more savoury. Two avenues, or clearings,
bisecting the forest from north to south, lead to the _q'sour_, or
village, of Ouargla. This _q'sour_, like every other, is built of
sun-dried earth, and surrounded by a circular rampart in very bad
condition, six to thirteen feet in height, and four and a-half feet
thick at the base. It is flanked with loop-holed towers, and encircled
externally by a muddy moat, crossed by six causeways leading to as many
gates.

Before some of these gates are planted the small entrenched camps,
wherein the Arab shepherds of the neighbourhood take refuge with their
flocks what time the oasis is menaced by an enemy.

The _q'sour_ of Ouargla is divided into three quarters, inhabited by
three tribes, who do not live always on the most friendly terms. In
appearance it resembles the Saharan _q'sours_, which have all a strong
family likeness; there are the mosque, and the governor's residence, and
the open market-place, and the narrow squalid streets, often obstructed
by heaps of unclean and unsavoury rubbish; and the low dull houses,
pierced with holes instead of windows, which have seldom any shutters;
so that the traveller, when he penetrates into these dismal quarters, is
startled by the contrast which they present to the picture of enchanted
palaces full of shade, perfume, and freshness, drawn by his eager
imagination. Our poets and romancists have much to answer for. Their
ideal East is very different from that actual East, in all its heat, and
noisomeness, and glare, which the voyager finds around him, and which
seems to have lost much of its beauty along with its grandeur and its
power. Pleasant to the fancy is the palm-grove, pleasant the garden with
its golden and purple fruitage, but the warm (and often mineral) waters
which irrigate, or rather inundate the soil, exhale the most deleterious
emanations, so that the unfortunate inhabitants are constantly decimated
by fever, blinded by ophthalmic disease, and devoured by insects!

We have already seen that the Desert of Erosion is watered by means of
artesian wells, natural or artificial. The latter have been known to the
peoples of the Sahara from the remotest antiquity; but the implements
and the methods employed to bore or preserve them were, as the reader
will suppose, very rude and unsatisfactory. The sides of the well are
only supported by a framework of palm-wood, which decays very quickly;
the well gets choked; divers descend with baskets to clear away the
sand; but after awhile the evil exceeds their power of remedying it.
"Then, for want of water," says M. Martins, "the palms grow sick and
perish; the villages are emptied of their population; the oasis
contracts its boundaries, and gradually disappears. The Desert resumes
possession of the demesne which the labour of man had temporarily won
for it." Fortunately, in the track of the French army have trodden the
French engineers, with all the wonderful apparatus that Science places
at their disposal, and in numerous places they have excavated true
artesian wells, similar to those which supply some of our great towns.
And thus many oases which were on the point of perishing have been
saved, others have been created, and the conquest of the Desert by
modern industry is henceforth no more than a question of time.

       *       *       *       *       *

The oases of the Sandy Desert, as I have said, are not watered. They
only possess such wells as suffice, more or less, for the needs of the
poor cultivators. As for the palms, and other nutritive vegetables, they
are planted at the bottom of conical excavations some eighteen,
twenty-five, or thirty feet in depth; so that at a short distance you
only see their crests rising above the sandy soil like large tufts of
herbage. The slopes around these hollow gardens are stayed indifferently
well by a matting of palm leaves. The well itself is placed in the
centre, and its depth does not exceed five-and-twenty feet. Nothing can
be more precarious than these oases, which a gust of wind may bury under
an avalanche of sand. Yet the men are cleaner in their person, neater in
attire, and livelier in spirit--the women are less wretched and less
oppressed--and the houses better built and better provided than in the
great _q'sours_ of the upper regions. In the Souf, the sandy region of
the Eastern Sahara, the industrious inhabitants of these oases remain at
peace in the midst of the tumults and insurrections of their turbulent
neighbours, and appear fully sensible of the advantages they undoubtedly
derive from the firm and impartial rule of the French Government.



CHAPTER VI.

ANIMAL LIFE IN THE DESERT.


The artist who wishes to represent the broad expanse of Ocean's "liquid
plain," does not fail to animate it with the white canvas of the
labouring ships. If he paints the Desert, his picture would be divided
by a horizontal line into two parts--the blue heaven, the yellow sand;
the latter, an undulating sea, with a few clumps of palms in the
background, and in the foreground, to enliven the too monotonous scene,
a group or so of camels. The camel is, in fact, the indispensable
accessory of every view of the Desert, as the ship of every marine
painting; which justifies once more the Arab designation of "ship of the
Desert" or "terrestrial ship" (_gouareb el beurr_).

In Book the First I have spoken of the Camel properly so-called, or
camel with two humps, which is peculiar to Central and Eastern Asia. The
camel of Arabia and Africa is the dromedary. The latter is employed
conjointly with the two-humped camel in the westernmost countries of
Asia: in Egypt, and in Nubia, he is much more widely spread than his
congener, which is nearly unknown in the rest of Africa. The dromedary
has but one hump. His hair is soft, woolly, moderately long about the
body, longer and much thicker on the hump, the head, the neck, and the
shoulders. Its colour varies from a reddish-brown to a clear yellow.
Zoologists recognize three varieties of this species:--The _Brown
dromedary_, also called, but improperly, the Caucasian dromedary--he is
brown, like the Bactrian camel, and his short squat limbs indicate
strength rather than agility; the _White dromedary_, of a very
transparent colour, and of slender figure; and the _Egyptian dromedary_,
larger than either of the preceding, and with body and limbs uniformly
clothed in short gray hair. But the Arabs distinguish only two races:
the _Djemel_, or camel of burden, which is no other, probably, than the
Caucasian dromedary; and the _Mahari_, or camel for the saddle and war,
whose name seems to apply equally to the two other varieties.

[Illustration: 1. The Mahari. 2. The Djemel.]

The mahari is to the djemel what our chargers are to our carthorses, or,
as the Arabs say, what the _djend_ (noble) is to the _kheddim_ (the
servant). He has a very sure foot, a free, sustained, and rapid trot;
he is sober, enduring, and courageous; a true courser, and the nomade's
inseparable friend and companion. His training is a matter of the
highest importance, and skilfully adapted to develop all his best
qualities and highest faculties.

The Arabs of the Tell assert that the maharis accomplish in one day ten
times the march of a caravan, or a hundred leagues; but the best in
blood and breeding do not generally exceed a daily journey of from
thirty-five to forty leagues.

The young mahari has his place in the Arab's tent. The children play
with him; he is a recognized member of the family; custom and gratitude
attach him to his masters, whom he divines to be his friends.

If the djemel be not as noble as the mahari, he is not less useful.
Without him, all relations would be suspended between the peoples of the
Sahara; the Soudan, wide, populous, and fertile as it is, would be a
_terra incognita_; he is the sole means of intercommunication possible
in the arid wastes of the Desert.

Alike living and dead, he is the fortune of his master.

Living, he carries the tents and the provisions; he makes war, he
carries on commerce; that he might be patient, God (say the Arabs)
created him without gall; he fears neither hunger nor thirst, fatigue
nor heat; his hair is woven into the burnous and the tent-stuff; the
milk of the female nourishes rich and poor, and fattens the horses; it
is "a spring which does not dry up."[73]

Dead, all his flesh is excellent eating; his hump (_deroua_) forms the
daintiest dish at the banquet; in the bottles made of his skin, the
water is neither consumed by wind nor sun; the shoes fashioned from it
may tread unhurt upon the viper, and will save the traveller's feet from
burning wounds (_haffa_); denuded of its hair, afterwards soaked in
water, and simply applied to a wooden saddle, without nails or pegs, it
adheres to it, like the bark to the tree, and communicates to the whole
a solidity which will defy war, the chase, and the foray.

The superiority of the mahari consists in this, that to all his own
peculiar qualities he adds those of the djemel. His inferiority arises
from the difficulty of his training, which consumes for more than a year
all his master's time without compensation, and from the fact that
animals of his race are few in number.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: STRIPED HYÆNAS OF THE SAHARA.]

If we turn to the poet or the artist for a picture of the Desert, we
find it peopled with animals of a very unsatisfactory character: the
lion, the leopard, the panther, in quest of prey, seeking whom they may
devour, or troops of hyænas and jackals, tearing with keen teeth the
corpses of men and animals.

    "With these, lean dogs in herds obscene repair,
     And every kind that snuffs the tainted air."--(_Lucan._)

[Illustration: JACKALS DISINTERING DEAD BODIES.]

Others diversify the scene with the graceful form of the gazelle, with
the ungainly body, immensely long neck, and spotted hide of the giraffe;
or with the ostrich, the camel of the bird-world, spreading his plumes
to the wind, and flying with swift feet from the hunter or the wild
beast that pursues him. But, in truth, these are bold fancies, artistic
or poetic licenses, rather than exact representations of what one really
sees in the Desert; and most of the animals with which we people, at our
pleasure, the immense solitudes of Africa and Asia actually belong to
neighbouring regions of a less arid character. And, in the first place,
the lion of the Desert is a myth, or nearly so. "When you speak," says
Carrette, "to the inhabitants of the Desert of these ferocious beasts
which Europeans give them as companions, they reply with imperturbable
coolness, 'You have, then, in your own country, lions which drink air
and browse on leaves? But, among us, lions must have running water and
live flesh. Therefore they only appear in those parts of the Sahara
where are wooded hills and an abundance of water. We dread nothing but
the viper (_lefa_) and the innumerable swarms of mosquitoes; the latter
being found wherever any humidity prevails.'"[74]

[Illustration: 1. Gypaëtos, or Bearded Vulture. 2. Sociable Vulture. 3.
Cathartes Percnopterus.]

What Carrette relates of the lion is also true of the other carnivora,
of the panther and the leopard, as well as of the hyæna and the jackal.
It is surely easy to understand that these animals greatly prefer to
sojourn in fertile and well-watered countries, where they enjoy
freshness, shelter, copious supplies of water, and abundant prey, than
in hot glaring plains of sand, which offer them no asylum, and where
they run the risk of perishing of hunger and thirst. It is, then, only
on exceptional occasions that the lions and other large _felidæ_ of
Africa issue from their caverns or their lairs, and wander into the
Desert (properly so called) in pursuit of prey. The hyæna and the jackal
venture there more willingly. We know that these carnivora only attack
living animals at the last extremity; their food is the dead and even
putrid flesh; it is a nutriment which costs them less trouble to obtain,
and probably, also, most pleases their taste. Thus, it is by no means an
uncommon occurrence to see them in the towns and _q'sours_, devouring
the carrion, or in the cemeteries disinterring the corpses; they follow
also in the Desert the caravans and detachments of troops on the march,
and at night prowl around their encampments, in the hope of some
windfall, which they seldom expect in vain, but which the dogs, the
vultures (_Cathartes percnopterus_ and _vultur fulvus_), the _gypaëtos_,
and the crows rarely fail to dispute with them.

The region of the table-lands, or Saharan Steppes, the valleys of
Erosion, and certain parts of the Gobi--Persia, Syria, and Arabia--which
are not absolutely deprived of rain, or which are refreshed by
mountain-streams, nourish several species of mammifers: gazelles,
hedgehogs, porcupines, hares, offering both to man and the carnivora an
abundant variety of game. Of all these animals, the most interesting are
the gazelles, several species of which inhabit the desert region. I
shall refer in the first place to the gazelle properly so called, or
_Antilope dorcas_, so remarkable for the grace of his movements, his
slender limbs, and the expressive gentleness of his eyes. This beautiful
species is common in Central Sahara, Nubia, and Asia. He lives in
numerous troops, is of small stature, with a yellowish or yellow-brown
skin on the back, and a white belly, a brown or blackish belt marking
the sides. The horns, larger and stronger in the male than in the
female, have a double curve, are lyrated, and without projections. The
Ariel Gazelle is about twenty inches high at the shoulder. The _Gazella
Soemmeringii_ belongs to Abyssinia and Sennaar. The gazelle _nanguer_
is found as far as Morocco, Nubia, and in the Cordofou; some varieties
occur at the Senegal. Finally, the oryx-leucoryx inhabits Tropical
Africa, and rarely makes his appearance in the Deserts; he differs from
the gazelle in his arched horns, but his skin is nearly the same.
Although the gazelles are generally considered extremely timid animals,
which, moreover, their weakness would fully justify, they display on
emergency a surprising courage. When they cannot escape from danger
through agility, they bravely confront the enemy which attacks them.
Menaced by a panther or a leopard, they form themselves into a circle,
which, bristling everywhere with keen-pointed horns, compels the
antagonist to retreat.

[Illustration:

  1. Gazelle.
  2. Antelope (_Oryx-leucoryx_).
  3. Gazelle (_of Soemmering_).
  4. Nanguer.]

In the deserts of Africa and Arabia the traveller frequently meets with
small rodents, which excavate their burrows in the sandy soil, and only
issue from them at night in quest of food. These are the jerboas and
jerbilles. The jerboas are easily recognized by the length of their
hind-legs and the disposition of their toes--three to each hind-foot,
the middle larger than the rest; five to each fore-foot; and all
furnished with sharp, strong, crooked claws; their structure resembling
that of the _raptores_ among birds. These animals leap with great
celerity, and to an extraordinary distance. The tail, which is a fifth
longer than the body, and terminated by a tuft of black hair, forms at
one and the same time a sort of balance, a rudder, and a lever. It
enables the jerboa to preserve his equilibrium, and to direct himself
when he has taken his spring; or, in a state of repose, furnishes him
with a substantial support.

[Illustration: GAZELLES OF ARABIA OPPOSING A PANTHER.]

The jerboas constitute, in the family of _dipodidæ_, a tribe composed of
several species, which are found in eastern and central Europe, Asia,
and Africa.

The jerbilles, owing to the similarity of name, are often confounded
with the jerboas; but the only things they have in common are a certain
conformity of habits, and a nearly equal aptitude for leaping.

Otherwise, their organization rather resembles that of the rat, along
with which it is classed by zoologists. Their hind-legs are much shorter
than those of the jerboa, and their tail is garnished with but a few
short, stiff hairs. Like the jerboas, they inhabit the sandy
wildernesses of Africa, Asia, and eastern Europe.

[Illustration: JERBOAS ATTACKED BY A HORNED VIPER.]

These small animals, exclusively frugivorous and graminivorous, seem
able, in the solitary places where they make their retreats, to multiply
themselves _ad infinitum_; but, while a great number perish through
famine, they are also decimated by a host of enemies in the reptiles of
the Desert, and especially by the terrible horned viper, or _cerastes_,
and a great saurian, intermediate between the lizard and crocodile--the
"varan of the Desert."

The horned viper (_vipera cerastes_) is thus named on account of the two
horns or protuberances on its forehead, which give it a physiognomy
more hideous, perhaps, than that of any of its congeners. It attains the
length of two to three feet. Its head is depressed, very obtuse, swollen
behind the eyes, and, so to speak, truncated in front. Its body, cased
in shells of a tawny-like yellow, marked with brown spots, blends
curiously with the sand, half-buried in which it lurks to surprise its
prey or escape from its enemies. The cerastes frequents the deserts of
Lybia, Arabia, the Sahara, and the valley of the Nile. Its bite is
exceedingly dangerous.

[Illustration: 1. Varan of the Nile. 2. Varan of the Desert.]

The _varans_, or _monitors_, called also _tupinambis_ by the ancient
naturalists, form a genus represented in tropical climes by several
species of great size. English writers commonly designate them monitors,
the French sauvegardes, because they frequent the haunts of crocodiles
and alligators, and give warning of their approach by a whistling sound.
Two species belong to Africa: one, aquatic, the varan of the Nile
(_varanus dracæna_); the other, sand-burrowing, the varan of the Desert
(_varanus sunius_, or _arenarius_), called by the Arabs
_onaran-el-ard_. Their usual size is from three feet to three feet four
inches. The varan of the Nile wears an armour of alternately green and
black scales. Its congener exhibits a mixture of brown and yellow, more
suitable to its sandy lairs. It is rare in the Sahara, but common enough
in the deserts of Egypt, Syria, and Nubia.

Poor as may be the Fauna of the Desert, there is yet cause enough for
astonishment that the species which compose it, especially the
herbivora, should be able to find subsistence in these seas of sand,
where they can find but a few saline plants scattered at rare intervals,
and where fresh water is almost wholly wanting. It is, however, well
known now-a-days that the wilderness provides its denizens with an
aliment, which is sometimes very abundant, suitable for man, the camel,
and the beasts, and is considered identical by many authorities with the
_manna_ of the Bible.[75] This substance is a cryptogamous vegetable,
variously christened _lichen esculentus_ (Acharius), _lecanora
esculenta_ (Pallas), _luttarut_ (by the Arabs), and _vasseh-el-ard_, or
"earth-dung" (by the Algerines). It sometimes forms on the sand, in the
morning, a layer one or two inches in thickness, and appears to have
dropped from heaven, or to have sprung spontaneously from the soil,
during the night. It is probable that its spores, transported by the
wind, are developed by the humidity which is condensed through the
nocturnal coldness.

A shower of this lichen was observed, in April 1846, in the Russian
government of Wilna. It covered the soil for three or four inches in
depth, and the inhabitants lived upon it for several days. Its form is
that of a small, anfractuous, rounded grain, about the size of a pea,
externally of a gray colour, but white and farinaceous within. Its taste
is weak, amygdalaceous, with a faint, mushroom-like aroma. Boiled in
water, it swells, becomes gelatinous, and may be served up in various
ways. In the Sahara, as well as in Arabia, it adheres to any foreign
body. Cattle feed upon it eagerly. It certainly facilitates digestion,
and contains all the assimilating principles which form the constituents
of the wholesomest vegetable food. Such as it is, the _lichen
esculentus_ is an inestimable boon to the wandering tribes of the
Desert, who would perish of hunger in years of famine but for its
heaven-sent nutriment.



CHAPTER VII.

THE MEN OF THE DESERT.


When I use the terms "Men of the Desert," "Populations of the Desert,"
evidently I must not be understood to employ them in their absolute
sense. Man, no more than that other so-called "lord of animals"--the
lion, makes a voluntary sojourn in countries where game, verdure, and
fresh water are wanting. The peoples whom we entitle "Inhabitants of the
Desert" are then, in reality, those who dwell upon its borders or in its
oases, but whom the necessity of traversing and frequently abiding in it
has familiarized with its gloom and its peril, as a similar necessity
has familiarized the mariner with the ocean. We have seen, however, that
some pastoral tribes pitch their tents and pasture their flocks in those
districts where vegetation is favoured and cherished by a supply of rain
or subterranean waters, and which should more accurately be designated
as Steppes than Deserts. Some authorities have, indeed, affixed the name
of "the Saharan Steppe" to the region of high table-lands which lies at
the base of the Atlas range.

Other groups, who are partly shepherds and partly hunters, inhabit, in
the Southern and Western Sahara, those plateaux where ostriches,
gazelles, and hares abound. The more peaceful and industrious tribes
occupy the oases. As for those who encamp or habitually wander in the
Sandy Desert--where all cultivation is impossible, where the herds can
obtain but an insufficient pasture, where game very seldom shows
itself-the reader will suppose that they can only subsist by plundering
or ransoming the caravans. These are the rovers, the pirates of the Sea
of Sand. There are "land-rats," Shakspeare tells us, as well as
"water-rats." Others, again, there are who seem convinced that "honesty
is the best policy," who give themselves up exclusively to commercial
transactions, and act as agents and intermediaries between nations
separated from one another by leagues of rock and sand, for the exchange
of their respective products. It might be said of these that they
discharged a useful and honourable function, if the purchase and sale of
slaves were not the most ordinary, and unfortunately the most lucrative,
of their operations.

In our previous examination of the peoples of the Steppes, we discovered
that all were more or less directly sprung from the same sources;--the
yellow or Mongolian race, which blends in the north with the Hyperborean
race, and in the west with the Japhetic or Indo-Germanic. We have now to
note a not less remarkable fact--that the whole Desert zone is likewise
occupied by one family, the Semitic, modified in certain parts of Africa
by commixture with the Negro race. Soon we shall see the latter peopling
of itself the plains of Central and Southern Africa; the
Malayo-Polynesian and Papuan, but slightly distinguished from the
preceding, in possession of the islands of the Indian Ocean, those of
Oceania, and the Australian continent; the Hyperborean race, scattered
through the Arctic solitudes; and, finally, the "Red Man," gradually
dying away among the prairies and forests of the two Americas: so that,
to each of the great divisions of the Savage or Desert World corresponds
one of the great fractions of the human species.

The Shemites--so named because the Bible attributes their origin to
Shem, the eldest son of Noah--are now-a-days represented only by the
Jews and the Arabs, though they formerly included also the Assyrians,
the Chaldæans or Babylonians, the Syrians, Phoenicians, and
Ethiopians. Of their modern representatives, the Jews alone have
displayed any real aptitude for civilization. The Arabs, whose name is
derived from the word _Arâba_, which signifies "desert," seem almost
exclusively adapted for a nomadic life; and it is to them can most
correctly be applied the characteristics which Renan too broadly
attributes to the entire Shemitic race.

"As far as concerns the civil and political life," says that
distinguished orientalist, "the Shemites are distinguished by the same
character of simplicity. They have never understood civilization in the
sense which we apply to the word. We do not find among them any great
organized empires, or commerce, or public spirit--nothing which recalls
the absolute monarchy of Egypt and Persia. The true Shemitic society is
that of the tent and the tribe: it owns no political or judiciary
institution; its principle is, man free, without any controlling
authority, and without any other security than that of the family tie.
The questions of aristocracy, democracy, feudality, which sum up all the
history of the Aryan peoples, have no meaning for the Shemites.
Aristocracy, not having among them a military origin, is accepted
without protest and without repugnance. The Shemitic nobility is purely
patriarchal: it owes nothing to conquest; it has its origin in blood."

As far as their physique is concerned, the Arabs are in general tall,
thin, nimble, not very strong. Their face is pale and long, their
forehead low, their nose aquiline, their mouth large, their chin
receding. The complexion is brown, as becomes those who live for months
under a glaring sun; the eyes are keen and glowing; the port is free and
even haughty. They have black hair and beard.

Of their history, prior to the day when Mohammed's genius knit them into
a great proselytizing military people, little certain is known. A
Shemitic tribe, descended from Joktan, grandson of Shem, settled in
Arabia at a remote period of antiquity, and Joktan's great-grandson,
Himzar or Homin, founded a dynasty which ruled in Yemen for upwards of
two thousand years. Even the Romans could not utterly subdue them, but
gradually the different tribes fell apart from one another, and for
centuries waged against each other the most desperate wars, until
Mohammed supplied them with a rallying-point in the creed of Islam.
Thenceforth their mission was to propagate the new faith by fire and
sword, and bursting from their rocky highlands like a torrent, they
poured along the shores of the Mediterranean to Gibraltar on the north,
and Tangier on the south. In Northern Africa they gradually mingled with
the Berbers, the Numidians, and the Getulians, and from the fusion
sprang the Kabyles, the Tibbous, and the Touaregs, while the Shemites
themselves lost a portion of their original character.

All the tribes of the desert are Moslems. The precepts of the Koran, and
certain traditional usages, are almost the only laws which they
recognize.

The Koran authorizes polygamy, and the Arab women, therefore, are less
the wives than the slaves of their husbands, who enforce upon them the
strictest seclusion, and impose upon them the most arduous labours. The
tyranny which weighs upon the women is, however, in inverse proportion
to the degree of welfare and civilization of the various tribes. Among
the poor and almost barbarous peoples of the desert, these unfortunate
creatures are reduced to a condition of degradation and brutishness
which inspires in the European almost as much disgust as pity.

The instinct of rapine which most writers have signalized as one of the
leading features of the Arab character, appears to have been greatly
exaggerated, or, at least, too much generalized. This vice is a special
result of their position, and, we must own, of the very antiquated views
they hold upon the "rights of man," which, indeed, they sum up in much
the same manner as Wordsworth's _Rob Roy_:--[76]

    "The creatures see of flood and field,
     And those that travel on the wind!
     With them no strife can last; they live
      In peace, and peace of mind.

    "For why?--because the good old rule
     Sufficeth them, the simple plan,
     _That they should take who have the power,_
       _And they should keep who can_."

We must also take into account the spirit of hostility which their
religion fosters against the infidel--against, that is, all who do not
accept the laws of the Prophet. "The sword," says Mohammed, "is the key
of heaven and of hell; a drop of blood shed in the cause of God, a night
spent in arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting or prayer:
whosoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven: at the day of judgment
his wounds shall be resplendent as vermilion and odoriferous as musk;
and the loss of his limbs shall be supplied by the wings of angels and
cherubim." Such a declaration could not but fire the enthusiasm of the
Arab, and whet their swords against the enemies of Islam.

The leading features of his character have been discriminated by Gibbon
with his usual sagacity, and described with his wonted stateliness of
language.

"In private life," he says,[77] "every man, at least every family, is
the judge and avenger of his own cause. The nice sensibility of honour,
which weighs the insult rather than the injury, sheds its deadly venom
on the quarrels of the Arabs; the honour of their women, and their
_beards_, is most easily wounded; an indecent action, a contemptuous
word, can be expiated only by the blood of the offender; and such is
their patient inveteracy, that they expect whole months and years the
opportunity of revenge. A fine or compensation for murder is familiar to
the barbarians of every age; but with the Arabs the kinsmen of the dead
are at liberty to accept the atonement, or to exercise with their own
hands the law of retaliation. Their refined malice refuses even the head
of the murderer, substitutes an innocent for the guilty person, and
transfers the penalty to the best and most considerable of the race by
whom they have been injured. If he falls by their hands, they are
exposed in their turn to the danger of reprisals, the interest and
principal of the bloody debt are accumulated; the individuals of either
family lead a life of malice and suspicion, and fifty years may
sometimes elapse before the account of vengeance be finally settled.
This sanguinary spirit, ignorant of pity or forgiveness, has been
moderated, however, by the maxims of honour, which require in every
private encounter some decent equality of age and strength, of numbers
and weapons....

"According to the remark of Pliny, the Arabian tribes are equally
addicted to theft and merchandize; the caravans that traverse the desert
are ransomed or pillaged; and their neighbours, since the remote times
of Job and Sesostris, have been the victims of their rapacious spirit.
If a Bedouin discovers from afar a solitary traveller, he rides
furiously against him, crying, with a loud voice, 'Undress thyself, thy
aunt (my wife) is without a garment.' A ready submission entitles him to
mercy; resistance will provoke the aggressor, and his own blood must
expiate the blood which he presumes to shed in legitimate defence. A
single robber, or a few associates, are branded with their genuine name;
but the exploits of a numerous band assume the character of lawful and
honourable war. The temper of a people thus armed against mankind, was
doubly inflamed by the domestic license of rapine, murder, and revenge."

The name of "Bedouins" (from _bedaouî_, "man of the Desert") has been
bestowed on the nomades of Arabia, Egypt, and the Northern Sahara. The
majority of them are shepherds; a few add to this industry the much less
honourable occupation of plundering trade-caravans; some prefer to
devote themselves wholly to this pursuit. All the Bedouins are children
of the sword. They exult in strife and the clash of arms. It is their
_acmé_ of happiness to mount the war-steed and ride against the foe. The
theme of the Arab and his horse, of the attachment which subsists
between them, of the services which the latter renders to his master, of
his physical and moral qualities, his courage, his swiftness, his
fidelity, has been worn so threadbare that I need not here insist upon
it.

I must state, however, that as there are two varieties of Arab camels,
so are there of Arab horses: the noble and the common, the beast of
blood and the beast of burden. The former seem to be growing scarcer
every year. He is named _koleïl_. The nobility of a horse depends
entirely upon that of his mother, so that an authentic certificate of
birth is always delivered to the purchaser of a "high-bred steed." This
certificate is enclosed in a small bag, which also contains a mysterious
writing, and suspended to the animal's neck will be an omen of good
fortune, it is hoped, to him and his owner.

[Illustration: BEDOUIN SHEPHERDS AND BEDOUIN NOMADES.]

The arms of the Bedouins are the curved sword, the yataghan, and the
long musket. Pistols are sometimes added, and the lance. They fight hand
to hand, and without any strategical method. They never venture upon
night attacks. They seek to surprise the enemy by rapid marches and
unexpected diversions, by ensnaring him in ambuscades, and harassing him
when he is the strongest in numbers. The most trifling fortification,
however, arrests them--a wall of brick, a simple ditch, a hedge of the
fig-tree, will suffice to protect a village from their depredations.

[Illustration: TOUAREGS.]

[Illustration: ATTACK UPON A Q'SOUR.]

The nomades of the Southern Sahara have not, like the Bedouins,
preserved in its purity the Shemitic type, but they have fostered and
developed the spirit of adventure and rapine which characterizes the
Arab of the desert, and they have added something of the ferocity of the
still barbarous tribes of Ham, with whom they have intermarried. These
nomades form two principal groups--the Tibboos on the east, and Touaregs
(Touarick, Touereug, or Tawarik) on the west. The former, according to
Humboldt, are called "birds," on account of their agility; they are
still imperfectly known to Europeans, despite of the labours of
Richardson, Clapperton, and Barth. The second are divided into the
Touaregs of Aghadez and the Touaregs of Tagazi. It was not until 1862
that the French army, crossing the Sahara from north to south, entered
into direct relations with these fierce children of the desert. In the
same year their ambassadors attracted the curiosity of ever-curious
Paris. They are the despots, the tyrants of the southern Sahara. The
charge of their lean flocks is their least occupation. They are, it is
true, skilful and enthusiastic hunters; but their veritable industry is
the exploration of the desert: an exploration which changes in form
according to circumstances. For a proper remuneration they undertake the
guidance and protection of the caravans; but whoever has not purchased
their safeguard they treat as an enemy, and if not adequately ransomed
sell into slavery. The Berbers of the oasis not unjustly regard these
marauders with alarm. For they pitilessly exact from the peaceful
cultivator a share of his harvest, which is always the lion's share; the
right of the strongest being the only right they recognize, and each
man for himself the only principle they respect. A troop of Touaregs,
for instance, descends upon an oasis, and summons its inhabitants to
deliver up immediately a certain number of bags of dates. In case of
refusal they withdraw, but the people of the oasis may prepare to defend
themselves with arms, for the dreaded blow will very shortly be
delivered. The Touaregs, leaving their maharis and their baggage at a
convenient distance, penetrate at night into the palm-gardens, scale the
walls, and, unless very energetically repelled, seize upon the tribute
they had demanded.

Nothing is there to be remarked in the Arabs of the _q'sours_ but their
misery and degradation. A French officer, M. Tremblet, has described
with exactness and force their physiognomy, manners, character, ideas,
and history.[78] One rises from the perusal of his book with a painful
impression. In the narrow and pestilential streets of the _q'sours_,
where vermin are as numerous as men and women, in those mud palaces
where the sultans are enthroned in rags, the same passions, the same
ambitions, the same all-potent appetites, the same struggles, intrigues,
and crimes prevail, as occupy so large a place in the history of the
great states of Europe and Asia.

Among the inhabitants of the Desert I would include the possessors of
the great Egyptian oasis,--that ancient cradle of civilization--that
strange and mysterious land which, after throbbing with so full and
brilliant a life in the days of the Pharaohs and the Ptolemies,
slumbered for centuries under the leaden domination of the Moslem. Let
us note only that the Egyptian people have undergone no special
modification; the features of the fellahs of to-day are exactly those
which we trace in the pictures that cover the walls of palace and tomb,
the monuments that carry us back in imagination to the erection of the
Pyramids or the glories of hundred-gated Thebes. It is the old
Egypto-Berber race, wherein we recognize the mixture of the black and
Shemitic blood, or perhaps the still incomplete result of the
influences which have transformed into negroes the whites who emigrated,
some thousands of years ago, from Western Asia into Africa.

[Illustration: NUBIAN WOMEN.]

The Egyptians establish, very clearly, the transition between the
Shemites and the population of Nubia and Ethiopia. With the latter the
skin is black or of a deep bronze; but the form, the features, the hair,
approach much more nearly the Caucasian than the Negro type. The Nubian
women especially exhibit a grace and dignity of movement which reveal
the nobleness of their origin. "It is in these far lands," says Trémaux,
"we meet with the modern Rebecca, attired with the antique Biblical
simplicity, and carrying the water vessel on her head. Their air, at
once easy and reserved, their black modest eyes, recall those images of
the holy history which every one has seen; only, instead of a cotton
stuff gaily coloured, imagine a piece very dirty and often in tatters,
and you will have the portrait of the Nubian woman; this garment is
otherwise so naturally draped and so proudly worn, that it yields in
nothing to the ancient models."

[Illustration]

[Illustration]



BOOK III.

_PRAIRIES, SAVANNAHS, PAMPAS, AND LLANOS._



CHAPTER I.

THE WILD PLAINS OF THE OLD WORLD:--THE AFRICAN INTERIOR.


When we have crossed the 18th parallel (or nearly so) of north latitude
in Africa and the 30th in Asia--the southern boundary of the Rainless
District--countries of extreme fertility and exuberant product succeed
to the dreary solitudes we have hitherto traversed.

At intervals, indeed, the traveller encounters some vast blighted and
accursed area, where, for a part of each year, a deadly aridity
prevails; but ever there comes a happy moment, even in these desolate
wastes, when genial Nature resumes her rights, abundant rains nourish
vegetable and animal life, and the glowing scene constrains us to
exclaim with thankful heart, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness
thereof."

The Asiatic plains in the south, are, however, preserved from such
abrupt alternations; numerous water-courses, leaping downward from the
snowy fountains of the Himalayan chain, refresh and fertilize these
countries, which are almost everywhere subject to the dominion of man.
Analagous causes, in the grand rich islands of the warm Indian seas,
produce similar effects; there, also, the very deserts are humid
regions, and tall grasses, bushes, shrubs, reeds, and climbing plants
grow in a rank and luxuriant chaos which we designate by the name of
jungles, in whose dense obscurity the tiger makes his lair, and the
serpent conceals his deadly venom!

In the immense triangle defined by that portion of the African continent
which extends from the Mountains of the Moon to the Cape of Good Hope,
nature has maintained almost intact her savage independence; but she
displays there her most varied forms, from the snow-crested ice-bound
mountain to the lowest and most monotonous plain, from the impenetrable
forest to the nakedest and barrenest steppe.

To enable the reader to comprehend these widely different aspects, and
to describe the peculiar characteristics of each region of this immense
continent, it will be necessary for us to recapitulate its most
important geographical features.

       *       *       *       *       *

A vast plateau, of comparatively slight elevation, occupies all Southern
Africa, extending eastward as far as the fifth or sixth degree north of
the equator. To the north-west, it is bounded by the mountains of
Senegambia; to the north-east, by those of Abyssinia. On the east and
west, the mountains descend to the very shore in secondary chains; to
the south the table-land is brought down to the sea in a series of
terraces which separate the mountain-ranges.

At its southern extremity, the African continent is from 550 to 600
miles broad. It is occupied by the British colony of the Cape, which is
bounded on the north by the Orange River. The most striking features of
the physical geography of this part of Africa, and which determine in
the main its climate and natural productions, are three chains of
mountains disposed parallel to one another and to the southern coast.
These are separated by terraces or upland plains, each range forming the
boundary of the lower and the abutment of the higher terrace. The
communication is maintained by transverse valleys, which are often of a
highly romantic character. The loftiest and most inland chain is
christened in different parts of its course the Roggeveld Bergen, the
Nieuveld Bergen, and the Sneeu Bergen, or "Snowy Mountains." Of these
the loftiest summit is the Compass Berg, 10,000 feet in altitude. The
second chain, the Black Mountains, though not so lofty are more massive,
and, in truth, composed of two or three chains in close juxtaposition.
The third, or last chain, in proceeding from south to north, varies from
eighteen to fifty-four miles, enlarging towards the west.

The plain or terrace between the Black and the Snowy Mountains is much
loftier than the two other steps by which we descend to the southern
extremity of the continent. The lowest terrace, bordering on the sea, is
well-watered and fertile. The second, or central terrace, consists of
fertile districts, equally well watered, but intersected by vast dry
deserts, called (from a Hottentot word) _Karroos_. The third terrace,
commonly designated the Great Karroo, at the base of the Roggeveld and
Nieuveld chain, is 300 miles in length, 80 miles in breadth, and 2000
feet above the sea-level. Its soil, says a writer in the _Quarterly
Review_, presents throughout its whole extent, for the greater portion
of the year, not a trace of vegetation. These gloomy solitudes assume a
character of picturesque grandeur through their very wildness of
desolation. The scene might convey to a fanciful mind the dreary image
of a ruined world, where the witches and demons of Goethe's
Walpurgis-Night might fitly celebrate their revels.

    "And through the cliffs with ruin strewn,
     The wild winds whizz, and howl, and moan."[79]

During the long dry summer months, the smallest birds would not find
wherewithal to sustain their existence in these sombre deserts, whose
solemn silence not even the murmur of an insect interrupts.

[Illustration: NIGHT-SCENE IN THE AFRICAN INTERIOR.]

Yet these regions, deprived of springs and running waters, are not
always sterile deserts, are not always desolate plains. In the dry
season, the soil, a yellow ferruginous clay, acquires the hardness of
brick, just as if it had been exposed to the fire of a furnace; but the
roots and bulbs, protected by a ligneous covering, resist the devouring
heat. The first rains revive them; they put forth their stems and
branches; a myriad flowers reveal their sparkling colours; and the
country which, a day or two before, had shown to the eye a bare and
dreary surface, shines out in a panoply of splendour, as if a magician's
spell had suddenly transformed it into a terrestrial paradise! But as
the days lengthen, and the sun's power increases, the bloom and the
beauty vanish, and the curse of fire once more descends upon the gloomy
scene.

In several districts north of the Cape Colony whole years pass by
without the sight or sound of running water rejoicing the wistful
wanderer. Dr. Livingstone, while residing among the Bakouans, in the
Bechuana country, saw the natives excavating the bed of the Kolobeng to
extract a few drops of water. A centigrade thermometer, sunk two and a
half inches in the earth, at noon, marked 56°. Insects placed on the
surface of the ground died in a few seconds. The grass was so dry that
it crumbled into powder when plucked.

The coast of Natal is rich in trees and herbage. The Zambesi, and other
rivers which descend from the central plateau, refresh the plains of
Mozambique and Zanzibar. But from the 4th parallel of north latitude to
Cape Guardafui extends an almost continuous desert. The southern
extremity of the Lupata chain also presents a vast naked country, where
the presence of gold has encouraged the Portuguese to found some
establishments.

The neighbouring zone of Kaffraria consists of great far-spreading,
gently-undulating plains, characterized by extreme aridity. The western
districts are much less broken than the central, and exhibit no
undulations except in the vicinity of the ocean. There an immense level
territory exists under the name of the Kalihari Desert, whose southern
boundary is marked by the Gariep or Orange River, which drains rather
than waters it. To the north this awful wilderness stretches as far as
the Lake Ngami, thus covering the area comprised between the 29th and
30th parallels of south latitude. The pastoral country of Namaqua and
Damaras bounds it on the west. Eastward it extends to the 24th meridian
of west longitude.

Moisture is not wholly wanting in this vast region. The Kalihari has
been called a desert, says Livingstone,[80] because it contains no
running water, and very little in wells. Far from being destitute of
vegetation, it is covered with grass and creeping plants, and there are
large patches of bushes, and even trees. It is remarkably flat; and
prodigious herds of antelopes roam over its trackless plains. The soil
is composed in general of a fine soft sand, lightly coloured--that is,
of a nearly pure silica. In the ancient beds of dried-up rivers lie
immense patches of alluvial soil, which, hardened by the sun, form great
reservoirs, retaining the rain-water for several months of the year. The
quantity of grass flourishing in this region is remarkable. It grows
generally in thick tufts, occasionally intermingled with spaces where
the earth is naked or closely overgrown with creeping plants. These,
deeply rooted in the soil, suffer but little from the effects of the
excessive heat. Most of them have tubercular roots, and are so organized
as to furnish both food and liquid during the long droughts--an epoch
when one vainly seeks elsewhere anything which can appease one's hunger
or one's thirst.

The rich vegetation of the Kalihari is due to its geological
constitution. It consists of a great valley, or rather of a vast basin,
whose bottom is formed of a diluvial earth, and which is encircled by a
belt of rocks, cloven at several places. It follows that where the rain
is abundant, the slope of the hills directs it towards the centre of the
basin, and this rain filters and deposits itself beneath the surface of
the soil. And it appears to be a proof of this statement, that on
digging in the sand cisterns are formed, or "sucking-places," which are
filled with water supplied by subterraneous conduits.

This so-called Desert is not without its utility. Not only does it
nourish innumerable multitudes of animals of every kind, but it has
become the asylum of fugitive tribes. Here at first the Bakalabaris
found a refuge; and then, in their turn, other peoples of the Bechuana,
whose territories had been invaded by the Kaffirs.

The Kalihari has its mirage and its sirocco. During the excessive
drought which precedes the rainy season, a burning wind traverses this
desert from north to south, and during its three or four days' duration
it withers and dries up everything in its path. It is so loaded with
electricity that a bundle of ostrich feathers, which remained exposed to
it for a few seconds, was itself charged as if it had been in contact
with a powerful electrical machine, and produced a lively disturbance,
accompanied by cracking noises, when taken in the hand. As often as this
wind prevails, the electricity of the atmosphere is so abundant that
every movement of the natives causes sparks to be given off their
_karosses_, or cloaks made of the skin of beasts.

The contrast is striking between the well-watered east coast of South
Africa and the arid western coast. After the scarped mountains of the
Cape, which ascend northward to the ocean, come the less lofty
chains--the hills of sand which separate the interior sandy desert from
the equally sandy district of the littoral. With the exception of the
Walvish Bay, the coast for eight hundred miles--from the great Orange
River to Cape Negro--has not a stream of water.

At Cape Negro commences a series of terraces, separated from one another
by long bands of sunken ground. This _ensemble_ describes a curve
towards the interior, and leaves on the coast a level plain of about 110
miles in breadth.

In Benguela the plains are healthy and cultivated. More to the north,
one encounters nothing but monotonous savannahs and forests with
gigantic trees. The soil, at a great number of points, is saturated with
water, and, so to speak, enveloped in a shroud of pestilential vapour,
which the breeze never scatters.

The low plains of Biafra and Benin, and especially the Delta of the
Niger, are unwholesome, rank, and foul-smelling marshes. In their
mangrove swamps lurks fever, and a legion of deadly diseases.

        "Macies et nova febrium
    Terris incubuit cohors."--(_Horace._)

Until the early years of the present century very little was known of
the interior of Southern Africa. At this epoch some native merchants
traversed the country from one sea to another--from St. Paul de Loanda
to the coast of Mozambique and Zanzibar. This exploit was repeated and
outstripped by Dr. Livingstone, who, from 1850 to 1856, accomplished a
marvellous journey of six thousand miles, through regions never before
trodden by the white man's foot.

Setting out from Kolobeng, the most advanced of the English missionary
stations, he arrived, after having crossed some three hundred miles of a
region without water, at the beautiful river Zouga, which issues from
the western extremity of Lake Ngami.

    "A region of drought, where no river glides,
     Nor rippling brook with osiered sides,
     Nor sedgy pool, nor bubbling fount,
     Nor tree, nor cloud, nor misty mount
     Appears, to refresh the aching eye;
     But barren earth, and the burning sky,
      And the blank horizon round and round."[81]

Lake Ngami is from 45 to 60 miles long, and from 56 to 110 in
circumference. Its direction is N.N.E. to S.S.W. Its southern portion
curves westward, and it receives from the north-west the Teoughé. The
water, very fresh when the lake is full, grows brackish during the dry
season. At the latter period it is very shallow, and at eighteen or
twenty miles from the shore canoes can be manoeuvred with the help of
a pole. The banks are everywhere low. At the west a considerable space,
utterly bare of trees, proves that the lake was formerly larger. During
the months which precede the arrival of the northern waters, cattle, to
quench their thirst, make their way with difficulty through the belt of
reeds dried up by the sun. The natives, says Livingstone, who reside on
the shores of the lake, tell us that trees and antelopes are carried
down by the waters during the annual inundation.

The same traveller informs us that the vast regions lying to the north
of the lake at such great distances--regions copiously watered, and
deluged every year by the heavy tropical rains--pour towards the south
the excess of the waters which saturate their soil; and a certain
quantity of these waters, encountering the lake on their way, flow into
it. It is in March and April that the inundation begins. The waters, on
descending, find the rivers dried up, and the lake itself exceedingly
shallow. The rivers in this part of Africa flow in channels capable of
containing a far greater volume of water than they generally hold. When
looking at them, you might believe yourself in some desolated Oriental
garden where all the irrigating canals still exist, but where the dams
permit only a mere thread of water to take its course.

"The water," adds Livingstone,[82] "is less absorbed by the earth than
lost between banks too wide apart, where the air and the sun evaporate
them. I am persuaded that there is not in the whole of this country a
river which loses itself amid the sands."

The country situated to the north is exceedingly level for some hundreds
of miles, and abundantly provided with lakes and rivers, which the
slightest undulations of the soil divert into innumerable windings. The
plain is alternately covered with sombre thickets, lofty forests, and
dense herbage. On the banks of some rivers this herbage assumes gigantic
proportions, and by its tenacity opposes an effectual barrier to
animals. In many places the wide green pastures are enlivened by large
herds of cattle, which the natives breed. The land of the Barotses
possess immense prairies of this description, the home of numerous herds
of elephants. But this richness of the soil is counterbalanced by the
insalubrity of the climate. These vast, periodically flooded surfaces
become, when the waters recede, the nurseries of deadly fevers, and
other formidable maladies, whose destructive influence extends to a
great distance.

The magnificent river Zambesi, known in its upper course by the local
appellation of Leambye--both words having the same signification in the
native tongue, "the River"--fertilizes and brightens these productive
regions. Flowing at first from north to south, it makes a sharp bend
westward, to march with stately step from south to north, and from west
to east, until, with a south-eastern inclination, it moves onward to the
Indian Ocean.

It was at a point nearly midway between the two oceans--the Indian and
the Atlantic--that the intrepid Livingstone first descried the Zambesi,
regarding its fertile banks and noble stream with much the same emotions
of delight and surprise as thrilled to the heart of Balboa, when

              "With eagle eyes
    He stared at the Pacific--and all his men
    Looked at each other with a wild surmise--
        Silent,upon a peak in Darien."[83]

He arrived there near the close of the dry season, and yet a grand
volume of water still sparkled in the river's bed, which varied from 950
to 1900 feet in breadth. At the epoch of the great floods, the Zambesi
rises perpendicularly more than eighteen feet, and at certain points
extends more than forty miles from its bank. From the borders of the
Chobé to those of the Zambesi spreads a low, level country, whose
uniform expanse is only broken by the gigantic hillocks of the termites.
At intervals the traveller lights upon spots where the waters have
formerly settled, then on great morasses and deep rivers, winding their
slow way through an almost impervious jungle. There is a certain fatal
beauty about the whole region, like that of a Circe or a Lucrezia
Borgia; but its atmosphere breathes disease and death.

A general depression and flatness of surface seems to be the physical
characteristic of this part of Central Africa. Thus, on the route
adopted by Livingstone, in a N.N.E. direction, from the chain of
Bamunguatos to the Zambesi, all is level. Mount N'goua, an isolated mass
in 18° 27' 20" south latitude, and 24° 13' 63" east longitude, is a
wholly exceptional accident. The Kandehy Valley, which deploys on the
northern slope of this narrow colossus, is one of the most picturesque
scenes that greeted the eyes of Livingstone during his adventurous
pilgrimage. Fruit trees, loaded with emerald foliage, adorn its sides;
a crystal brook ripples in the centre. Under the shade of an enormous
baobab the graceful antelopes browse undisturbed, until alarmed by the
footfall of the approaching traveller. Gnus and zebras contemplate the
strange intruder with an air of surprise. A few continue to crop the
grass indifferent; others pause in the banquet, uncertain whether to
stay or take to flight. The huge hulk of a white rhinoceros drags
labouring up the shady valley. Buffaloes, and condors, and giraffes
stray far into its pleasant depths as peaceful and almost as trustful as
those of their race which, in days remote, wandered among the beauties
of Eden, in

            "That delicious grove,
    That garden, planted with the trees of God."

Further to the north, even to the river Sanshureh, the country increases
in richness and beauty, the water-courses multiply, and the herbage
aspires to such a height that vehicles and animals are lost amongst it.

An exceeding gentleness, an almost Arcadian calm, characterizes the
landscape on the banks of the Leeba, a great affluent of the Leambye.
This river drags its slow and ever-winding waters through a delightful
meadow-land, which is probably flooded every year, for there is no wood
except where the ground rises four or five feet above the general level
of the plain. The soil of these tree-crowned plateaux, or knolls, is
sandy, while that of the prairies consists of an alluvial earth, gray
and black, and mixed with numerous river-shells.

Ascending the Leeba, we enter on a plain more than eighteen miles in
breadth, where the water rises to the traveller's ankles. This water,
says Livingstone, does not proceed from the overflow of the river; but
the level of the ground is so horizontal that the rain-water cannot pass
away, and abides there for months. Still more humid are the adjacent
plains of Lobala. This vast submerged area forms a watershed between the
rivers of the north and those of the south. Up to this point all the
rivers wend their way southward; but from this point they adopt a
northerly course, to empty their tribute into the Kasaï or Loké.

The interior table-land, especially towards the mid-course of the
Zambesi, is intersected by lofty mountain-chains. It is in this region,
and at the southernmost point of the river's great Delta, which is 270
miles in length, that the famous Falls occur, named by the natives
"Mosioatounya," or "Smoke-resounding," re-christened by Livingstone, the
Victoria. Their vast columns of vapour are visible at a distance of five
or six miles, and might suggest to an American traveller the rolling
clouds that ascend from a burning prairie. The banks and islands of the
river are here enriched with sylvan vegetation of every variety of form
and colour: the mighty baobab, each of whose enormous arms would form
the trunk of a large tree; the graceful palm, with its crest of
plume-like foliage; the silvery mohonams, whose leaves sparkle in the
sunshine like Achilles' shield; and the nutsouri, abounding in clusters
of pleasant scarlet fruit.

The Falls are bounded on three sides by densely-wooded ridges 300 or 400
feet in height, and may be likened to a flood of water a thousand yards
broad, suddenly hurled over a basaltic precipice 100 feet in depth, and
then as suddenly compressed into a narrow gully not more than fifteen or
twenty yards across.

"If one imagines," says Dr. Livingstone,[84] "the Thames filled with low
tree-covered hills immediately below the Tunnel, extending as far as
Gravesend, the bed of black basaltic rock instead of London mud, and a
fissure made therein from one end of the Tunnel to the other, down
through the keystones of the arch, and prolonged from the left end of
the Tunnel through thirty miles of hills; then fancy the Thames leaping
bodily into the gulf, and forced there to change its direction and flow
from the right to the left bank, and then rush boiling and roaring
through the hills, he may have some idea of what takes place at this the
most wonderful sight I have witnessed in Africa."

[Illustration: VICTORIA FALLS, RIVER ZAMBESI.]

In descending into the narrow abyss already spoken of, the cataract
breaks into five separate streams, which send up, to an elevation of 200
or 300 feet, as many columns of luminous vapour--pillars of shivering
spray, and foam, and diamond sparkle, which in the sunlight are
gloriously wreathed with the rare hues of Iris.

                      "How profound
    The gulf! and how the giant element
    From rock to rock leaps with delirious bound,
    Crushing the cliffs, which, downward worn and rent
    With his fierce footsteps, yield in chasms a vent
    To the broad column which rolls on."--(_Byron._)

In descending the Zambesi, we encounter the great river Kafue, which
flows from the north. Beyond the point of confluence the country becomes
opener, freer, and healthier, and we arrive at the Portuguese town of
Tété.

About 200 miles to the north-west of Tété lies the great lake of fresh
water, Niyanyizi-Nyassa, or "Lake of Stars," which stretches far away to
the north-west across Unyamuezi, or "The Land of the Moon." It is rather
shallow, sprinkled with numerous fairy islands, and seems to be the
remains of an ancient lake of much greater extent. To the south-west a
belt of fertile country separates it from another lake called Shirwa,
whence issues a beautiful river, tributary to the Zambesi, impeded in
its course by numerous rapids, but traversing a level and unwholesome
country.

At the same time (1856-58) that Livingstone accomplished these great
discoveries, Equatorial Africa was penetrated from the coast of Zambesi
by Captains Burton and Speke. These undaunted and indefatigable
travellers, after having ascended the river Pangany for a hundred and
thirty miles, through a rich and cultivated but pestiferous plain,
arrived in February 1858 at Lake Tanganyika, of which the natives had
spoken to Livingstone, describing the country lying to the westward of
that mass of water as bare of wood, and solely covered with marshy
plains.

Lake Tanganyika lies 200 miles S.W. of the Victoria N'yanza, between
lat. 3° and 7° 45' S., at an elevation of 1844 feet above the sea. The
30th meridian of east longitude strikes it in the centre. Its length is
320 miles; but its breadth seldom exceeds 15 or 20, and never 60 miles,
so that it has been compared to a beach inclining its head towards the
north. To the north-east its shores are bold and elevated; the water is
fresh and deep. The country around it is rich in pasture, where a
thriving population breed numerous flocks and herds.

About two hundred miles to the north-east of this lake, and 3740 feet
above the sea-level, lies the vast basin of the Victoria N'yanza,
discovered by Captain Speke in 1859, and more fully explored by Speke
and Grant in 1862. Its northern shore runs nearly parallel to the
Equator, at a distance of about twenty miles from it; its southern is in
lat. 2° 46' S., and long. 33° E. It would seem at some remote period to
have occupied a much larger area than it does at present, though even
now it is supposed to measure 220 miles in length and fully as much in
breadth. Speke describes it as very shallow. Fleets of canoes cover its
surface; but the natives on the one shore never venture across to the
other, and no intercommunication has ever existed between them. The
surrounding landscapes are of a pastoral character, genial and fertile,
with quiet breadths of rich meadow land, dotted by hundreds of white
hornless cattle, and scarcely distinguishable from our midland English
scenery, were they not interspersed with groves of the banana, the
coffee-tree, and the date-palm. At its north-eastern extremity, and
probably connected with it, lies a long narrow basin which the natives
call Lake Baringo. On the west it receives the tributary waters of the
Kitangulé, and from the north throws off the various streams which unite
in one channel to form the famous Nile.

North-west from the N'yanza lies the little Lúta N'zigé, or Albert Lake,
discovered by Sir Samuel Baker in 1864; a long, narrow, and shallow
basin, surrounded by mountains 7000 feet high, about 230 miles in
length, and 2488 feet above the sea-level, which apparently serves as
the great reservoir of the Nile.[85]

The discoveries of Livingstone, Burton, Speke, Grant, and Baker, seem to
confirm the theory put forward by Sir Roderick Murchison, that the
central portion of South Africa is a large and elevated basin, abounding
in immense plains, in fertile lands, besprinkled with numerous lakes fed
by a thousand currents descending from the lofty mountains that
surrounded it. The rains, says Morin, cause these lakes to overflow, and
their waters, prevailing over every obstacle, break through the barrier
of the high lands, and descend into the lower levels in a series of
cataracts, to make their way eventually towards the ocean. Livingstone
has proved the truth of this felicitous induction as far as the Zambesi
is concerned. The Nile also issues from the lofty table-lands through
deep and rocky ravines. The great reservoir of the mysterious Egyptian
river, the _N'yanza Spekii_, may be accepted as the final confirmation
of Sir Roderick's theory, and the conspicuous feature of the African
people. The southern extremity of this lake stretches as far as the
watershed between North and South Africa. Starting from the same
viewpoint, Speke concludes that another great lake will be found under
the Equator, to the west of the Tanganyika and the N'yanza Victoria.
This will be the reservoir of the Congo. To establish this fact will be
to solve the last problem of the hydrographic system of Africa.[86]

The western region of the African equatorial zone has been but
superficially explored, and in this direction numerous hypotheses remain
to be verified. Lake Tchad, situated in Central Nigritia, between Bornou
on the west and the south-west, and the Kanem to the north and east, was
discovered in 1823 by Major Denham, and explored by Dr. Barth in 1852.
The latter traveller grows eloquent in his description of the delicious
perspective which he had supposed it would offer to the gaze. He met
with numerous slaves on their way to cut grass for the horses. But
instead of a lake, an immense treeless plain stretched as far as the eye
could reach. The herbage became fresher and greener, thicker and taller;
a marshy bottom, describing a curve which projected here and receded
there, embarrassed his progress more and more; and after a useless and
prolonged struggle to escape from the quagmire, seeking in vain on the
horizon some mirror-like surface, he retraced his steps, dabbling in the
slimy water, and consoling himself with the reflection that at least he
had seen some traces of the "liquid element." But the scene was
strangely different when, in the winter of 1854-55, more than one-half
of the Ngornou was destroyed by the inundation; and to the south of that
town lay a deep sea, swallowing up the whole plain even to the village
of Koukiya! The lower stratum of the soil, composed of limestone,
appeared to have given way in the preceding year, and had lowered the
shore of the lake several yards; hence the inundation. But apart from
this evidently exceptional geological catastrophe, the character of the
Tchad is clearly that of an immense lagoon whose borders change every
month, and of which it is consequently impossible to lay down any
strictly accurate map.[87]

Lake Tchad lies between lat. 12° 30' and 14° 30' N., long. 13° and 15°
30' S. Its length varies from two hundred to three hundred miles,
according to the amount of rainfall and similar circumstances; at its
broadest it measures one hundred and seventy miles; and it has an
elevation of eight hundred feet above the sea-level. The actual margin
of its waters is lined by a deep fence of papyrus and tall reeds, from
ten to fourteen feet high. Its islands are densely peopled. Fish and
water-fowl abound, and not less do crocodiles and hippopotami. The lake
has no outlet, but receives several rivers, of which the Waube and the
Shari are the most notable.

The country watered by the Niger is also broken up by vast plains which,
fertile and glowing in the rainy season, are scorched and withered by
the summer heats. The famous port of Kabara, not far from Timbuktù, is
several miles from the river, and only accessible for five months in the
year at the epoch of the great rains.

Beyond this belt of vegetation, this girdle of fertility, Nature wears a
sombre aspect--the stony look of a corpse; for the immense Desert of the
Sahara begins. The transition from the one region to the other, from
the land of plenty to the land of want and famine, from the land of
bright lakes, and copious streams, and green pastures, to the land of
rocky heights and barren sandy wastes, is as startling as the change
which sometimes occurs in human life--the change of a moment, from
bustling and exuberant happiness to profound sorrow. It is such
contrasts, however, that enable us fully to appreciate the beauty and
wealth of Nature.

    "The scorching winds from arid deserts borne,"

teach us to prize the balmy breath of the "sweet south" that wanders
"o'er a bank of violets." Fresh from the dreary Sahara plain, burnt and
scathed by a Tropic sun, we can feel all the loveliness of the woodland
and the leafy vale, of each

                      "Melodious plot
    Of beechen green, and shadows numberless."

Thus, in the material world as in the moral and intellectual, the law of
compensation prevails, and the wayfarer in the Desert of Life may cheer
himself with the recollection that in due time the silence will be
succeeded by music, the desolation by beauty, and the wilderness by

    "Verdurous glooms, and winding mossy ways."



CHAPTER II.

DESERTS OF THE NEW WORLD:--PRAIRIES, PAMPAS, LLANOS.


They who study the philosophy of history, of which men talk so much, and
know so little; they who seek in the general laws of nature and the
physical economy of the globe an explanation of its ethnological
phenomena, may find, it seems to me, a curious subject for investigation
in the singular destiny of the New World. They will have to ascertain by
what concurrence of circumstances the two Americas, separated from us
by an immensity of waters, and revealed to the world of the East but
some four centuries ago, shall have traversed in so brief a period the
successive phases of conquest, colonization, and emancipation; why
European emigration was directed thitherward at the very beginning; and
thitherward continues still to flow from every quarter; finally, by what
tacit and unanimous agreement this New World has become the adopted
country of all the proscribed and disinherited of the Old; while almost
the entire area of the African continent, which is so much more readily
accessible, is scarcely less favoured in its climatic conditions, and
upon which the white race has rested, from the remotest antiquity, its
political institutions, its arts, and its industry, has remained
uninfluenced by the advancing tide of civilization.

[Illustration: PRAIRIES OF NORTH AMERICA--STAMPEDO OF WILD BISONS.]

I limit myself to indicating this problem, which, however, it is not
within my present province to examine, but which naturally suggests
itself when we think of the swift development undergone by the European
societies planted on the American continent--when we remember how
rapidly they are narrowing the area of the desert and the wilderness. At
the epoch of the discovery of the New World it was one vast desolation,
with the exception of Mexico and Peru; and these were but the seats of a
civilization which seemed to have passed without transition from infancy
to old age, from vigour to decrepitude, and which crumbled into dust
under the pitiless blows of the Spanish conquerors. Neither Cortez nor
Pizarro would have overthrown a great empire with a handful of
foot-soldiers and men-at-arms, a squadron or two of horse, and a few
unwieldy guns, had not the Colossus already nodded to its fall, had not
the Column been hollow at the base. But soon the European nations shared
among themselves this immense country and the neighbouring islands. The
Slave race, whose destiny it seemed to be to reign among the polar ice
and snow, long contented itself with the inclement and inhospitable
region of the extreme north-west, which it has but recently surrendered
to the United States Government. The Anglo-Saxon race, in the northern
continent, has seized the lion's share. It now holds between the two
oceans, from the fifty-fifth to the thirtieth parallels of north
latitude, a fertile and life-breathing territory, well fitted to be the
cradle of great empires; the flourishing Confederation of Canada, the
colony of British Columbia, and the mighty republic of the United
States. Virgin forests have fallen before the restless axe of the hardy
pioneer; hundreds of populous cities have risen as if by enchantment in
districts haunted within the memory of men by the bear and the wild
buffalo; a network of railways spreads from the Atlantic almost to the
base of the Rocky Mountains; crops of waving corn bloom over wide
prairies that a few years ago yielded only the tall grass and waving
reed; the aboriginal tribes of the Red Indians have melted away before
the impetuous tide of an ever-advancing civilization; and the
exhaustless energies of our race have already raised in less than a
century two mighty empires on the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence,
destined to a marvellous, a changeful, and doubtlessly a glorious
history. And both these empires have sprung from the loins of England,
are governed in the main by the same laws, hold the same religion, are
animated by the same aspiring and unwearied genius, and

                    "Speak the tongue
    That Shakspeare spoke; the faith and morals hold
    Which Milton held;"

in everything, as we believe,

                                "Are sprung
    Of Earth's first blood, have titles manifold."[88]

Southward from the thirtieth parallel stretches the domain of the Latin
races, already mingled with and being absorbed by the Anglo-Saxon, in
Canada, California, and the Southern States of the Union. Vast as this
region is, for it comprehends all Central America and all the Southern
Continent, it is infinitely less prosperous, less powerful, less
peopled, than what we may call Saxon America. Mexico is a byword and a
reproach for savage anarchy and murderous license. Neither Chili, nor
Peru, nor even Brazil approaches Canada in solid power and the
auspicious promise of future greatness. The Latin race seems dwarfed
and cowed by the neighbourhood of the energetic Anglo-Saxon, is swiftly
retiring before it in North America, and in the course of centuries will
probably be subjugated by it, even in the southern division of the great
Continent.

A considerable portion of South America, however, is uncultivated,
unpeopled, and but imperfectly explored. There the Desert re-appears
with--

    "The pale, cold aspect of a wearied friend,"[89]

under its most sharply defined forms and most impressive conditions. The
supremacy of the whites over the indigenous tribes is almost nominal;
and if the latter are gradually dying out, the catastrophe, in this
instance, is due rather to their own lack of vigour, energy, and
capacity, than to the pressure of civilization.

However rapid may be the growth of population in North America, however
great the rapidity--shall we say the avidity?--of the American
_squatters_ in their conquest and appropriation of the soil, the Desert
still occupies, principally in "the far West" and the North--that is to
say, in the angle comprised between the line of the great lakes and the
Rocky Mountains--an area almost equal to the whole of Continental
Europe. There we find, as Mr. Johnstone points out, the largest plains
in the world. One such, for example, is that immense basin which extends
from the mouths of the Mackenzie, in the icy Arctic Sea, even to the
remote Delta of the Mississippi, and from the huge chain of the Rocky
Mountains, with their piny recesses and snowy peaks, to the less rugged
and more pastoral range of the Alleghanies; a total area of
4,400,000,000 square yards (3,245,000 square miles). A table-land of
gentle elevation, nowhere above 1500 feet, and rarely more than 700 feet
high, separates this territory into two secondary basins.

The _north-east_, which pours its waters into the Arctic Ocean, Hudson's
Bay, and through the Canadian lakes and River St. Lawrence, into the
Atlantic; and,

The _south_ basin, of the Missouri-Mississippi, whose mighty waters flow
into the Gulf of Mexico.

It is in the latter that the traveller encounters the great grassy
plains of the _Prairies_ or _Savannahs_ which are so remarkable a
feature of North America, and which chiefly lie along the western bank
of the Mississippi. "There are no prairies," says Sir J. Richardson, "to
the north of Peace River, and the level lands which border the Rocky
Mountains do not extend beyond the Great Salt Lake."

Under so wide a range of latitude the plain necessarily embraces a great
variety of soil, climate, and productions; but being almost in a state
of nature, it is characterized in its central and southern parts by
interminable grassy savannahs and enormous forests, and in the far north
by deserts not less dreary than those of Siberia.[90]

Southward, a bare sandy waste, 400 or 500 miles wide, skirts the base of
the Rocky Mountains to the forty-first parallel of north latitude. The
dry plains of Texas and the upper region of the Arkansas have all the
features of Asiatic table-lands; further to the north, the lifeless,
treeless steppes on the high grounds of the far West are burnt up in
summer, and frozen in winter by biting blasts from the Rocky Mountains.
Towards the Mississippi the soil improves, but its delta is a labyrinth
of streams, and lakes, and dense brushwood, and the rank marshes at its
mouth cover an area of 35,000 square miles. "There are also," says Mrs.
Somerville, "large tracts or forest and saline ground, especially the
Grand Saline between the rivers Arkansas and Neseikelongo, which is
often covered two or three inches deep with salt, like a fall of snow.
All the cultivation on the right bank of the river is along the Gulf of
Mexico and in the adjacent provinces, and is entirely tropical,
consisting of sugar-cane, cotton, and indigo. The prairies, so
characteristic of North America, then begin."

And what are these prairies?

Leagues upon leagues of rolling meadow-land, sometimes as level as an
English pasture, always as boundless, apparently, as the sea; richly
covered with long rank grass of tender green, and lighted up by flowers
of the liliaceous kind which scent the air with fragrance. Here and
there, in the north, occur clumps of oak and black walnut; in the south,
groups of tulip, and cotton, and magnolia trees. Occasionally the
monotonous scene is relieved by a lazy brook, whose banks bloom with a
brilliant mass of azaleas, kalmias, rhododendrons, and andromedas; the
low howl of the cayeute, or prairie dog, breaks the silence; and life is
given to the landscape by the frequent appearance of herds of bison,
deer, and wild horses. At times, in the remote districts, the prairie
wolves will be seen in some leafy covert awaiting the approach of a
victim; or flights of birds darken the air, and tempt the traveller with
the promise of an abundant provision.

On the right bank of the Missouri, and on the borders of the White
River, in the territory of Nebraska, lies a dreary desert valley, some
30 feet deep, which the French expressively designate les
_Mauvaises-Terres_. It may be doubted whether the whole world offers a
stranger or a more impressive landscape. Here geology recognizes the
vestiges of an astonishing diluvian labour, and it is impossible to
venture a step without striking one's foot against the fossil relics of
vanished animals.

It is a kind of world apart, says an American writer; a large valley
which seems to have been excavated, in the first place, by an immense
vertical out-throw, and then modelled by the prolonged and incessant
action of denudating agents. With a mean breadth of 28, and a total
length of 90 miles, it develops itself in a westerly direction, at the
foot of the sombre mountain-chain known as the _Black Hills_. On issuing
from the immense, uniform, and monotonous prairie, the traveller finds
himself suddenly transported, after a descent of 100 to 200 feet, into a
depression of the soil where rise a myriad of abrupt rocks, irregular or
prismatic, or like columns dressed with enormous pyramids, and from 110
to 220 feet in height.

[Illustration: VIEW OF THE "MAUVAISES-TERRES," NEBRASKA, U.S.]

These natural towers are so multiplied over the surface of this
extraordinary region, that the roads wind through them in narrow
passages, and the labyrinth may be likened to the irregular streets and
narrow alleys of some mediæval European city. Seen from afar, the
interminable succession of rocks resembles the massive monuments of
antiquity; nor are turrets wanting, nor flying buttresses, nor graceful
arches, nor vaulted portals, groups of columns, façades, and taper
spires. If at one place the eye lights upon the ruins of a feudal
fortress, at another it surveys the graceful ensemble of a Saracenic
mosque. Or you might almost say, in the distance, that it is a fantastic
"city of the dead" which looms before you; or the gigantic palace of a
race of unseen beings, fashioned by the power of spell and enchantment.
And if the illusion vanishes when, descending from the heights, you
penetrate into the mazes of this Dædalian marvel, the reality is not
less calculated to inspire you with astonishment, and the imagination
remains confused before this wild, this grand, yet ominous freak of
Nature--ominous, for the place seems like a colossal Golgotha, and the
rocks may be the monuments consecrated by invisible hands to the things
and creatures, the life and majesty, of a forgotten Past!

A spectacle unexpected by the European traveller comes at intervals to
heighten and confirm the illusion. Here and there are reared
constructions of manifest human work, but of a truly primitive
character. They consist of four poles, supporting a rude platform of
wicker. Mount any adjacent hillock, and you will see corpses and human
skeletons outstretched upon the platform. These constructions are, in
truth, the burial-places of the Sioux Indians, who wander still in the
neighbouring districts.

The whole coast of the Mexican Gulf, from the Pearl River eastward,
through Alabama and a great part of Florida, is occupied by the
so-called "pine barrens," which extend far into the interior. These
"vast monotonous tracts of sand, covered with forests of gigantic pine
trees," are not less a characteristic feature of North America than the
"rolling prairies." They are not limited to this part of the United
States, but occur to a great extent in Virginia, North Carolina, and
elsewhere. Tennessee and Kentucky, though the plough has passed over
extensive areas, still possess large forests, and the Ohio flows for
hundreds of miles among patriarchal trees, with a rich undergrowth of
azaleas, rhododendrons, and other beautiful shrubs, bound together in
chains of flowers by creeping plants. When America was discovered, one
mass of unbroken forest spread over the mainland, from the Gulf of St.
Lawrence and the Canadian Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the
Atlantic Ocean it crossed the Alleghany Mountains, and spread in gloom
and grandeur over the valley of the Mississippi--an ocean of vegetation
swelling and sinking for upwards of one million of square miles.

     "Then all the broad and boundless mainland lay,
      Cooled by the interminable wood, that frowned
      O'er mound and vale, where never summer ray
      Glanced, till the strong tornado broke his way
      Through the gray giants of the sylvan wild;
      Yet many a sheltered glade, with blossoms gay,
      Beneath the showery sky and sunshine mild,
    Within the shaggy arms of that dark forest smiled."[91]

Prairies which, in their general aspect, resemble those of the Missouri
and the Mississippi, are found to the east and west of the American
Desert, in Arrisona, in Texas, in California, and various provinces of
Mexico. Vegetation, however, nevertheless differs according to the
conditions of each region, and the alternatives of deluging rains and
extreme dryness become more and more conspicuous as we approach the
Equator. Nevertheless--and this, perhaps, is the feature most
distinctive of the Prairies, or Savannahs, from the Pampas and
Llanos--the dryness is never sufficiently severe in the former to
destroy vegetation, as is the case in the latter. But the herbs and
grasses often grow so dry in summer that the most trivial accident--such
as a lighted match flung carelessly away, or the ashes dropped from a
hunter's pipe--will kindle the most awful conflagrations, and the flames
will spread devouringly over leagues of open ground, consuming trees and
shrubs, and burning to death the cattle or wild animals which haply fall
within their range. With the crackling, hissing, seething noises of the
fire mingle the groans of the perishing beasts, while huge clouds of
smoke roll before the wind, like the billows of a wind-swept ocean,
and live tongues of flame ever and anon light up the terrible scene with
lurid splendour. These "Prairie-fires" are sometimes kindled in revenge
by the Indians, and occasionally the settlers resort to this dangerous
but summary method of clearing the encumbered ground. However caused,
the spectacle is one of infinite grandeur, which might have furnished
Dante with a fresh image of horror for his "Inferno."

[Illustration: A PRAIRIE ON FIRE IN CENTRAL AMERICA.]

From the fortieth to the thirty-fifth parallels of north latitude the
Desert appears in North America under a form more like the "seas of
sand" of Africa and Arabia; the vast areas of the _Llanos_ and the
_Pampas_. These two words are nearly synonymous. They are used to
designate wide level plains, inundated and fertile in the rainy season,
but in the hot season stripped by the sun's rays of every apparent trace
of vegetation. Between the Californian Alps and the Rio-Colorado withers
a grand, sandy, and utterly barren plain, which touches the northern
borders of La Sonora. Somewhat further to the east extends the
Llano-Estacado, which eventually merges into the American Desert. But
the most considerable Pampas and Llanos belong to South America. Of
these, the most arid and the most desolate--which most vividly recall
the rainless deserts of the Old World--are the Pampa of Atacama, between
the Andes and the Pacific, with Taracapa on the north, and Copiapo on
the south; that of Sechura, which forms a great portion of the littoral
of the Peruvian department of Truxillo; and that of Pernambuco, which
forms the major part of the plateau north-east of Brazil.

These Deserts, no less than those of Africa and Arabia, merit the name
of the "Land of Fear."

Their surface is as smooth as that of the calm sea, and bounded only by
the circular line of the horizon; the eye frequently ranges over a space
of twenty-five square miles without meeting a clump of trees on which to
rest; nor is the monotony relieved by the slightest undulation of the
soil. Everywhere is nothingness, silence, desolation, death. More than
one wayfarer has never escaped from their mazy solitudes. Fatigue,
hunger, thirst, decimate the caravans which undertake to traverse them,
and the track is marked by whitened skeletons, whose flesh has been
devoured by vultures, and which unknown hands have piled up and arranged
with a ghastly symmetry of order.

However, since the discovery of America, certain portions of the Llanos
have become habitable. Towns have risen at intervals on the banks of the
rivers which water them. These centres of population are connected with
each other by huts of reeds, covered with ox-hides, and separated by
about a day's march. Here reside the _Llaneros_, to whose charge are
intrusted the innumerable herds of cattle, horses, and mules, which
subsist on the pasturage of the Steppes.

The inhabitants of the Llanos possess characteristics as marked as those
of their plains. The _hatos_ wherein they assemble are situated at long
distances apart; but the true home of the llanero, a bold and skilful
horseman, is his saddle. Firmly seated on his rapid steed, he gallops at
will across the trackless plain, and combining the two extremes of
solitude and activity, confines his half-savage existence to the custody
or the ownership of his herds of horses and cattle. Thus, born in the
Llanos like his father, a descendant of the first Spanish settlers, he
has no idea of any other country than his southern pastures, of any
other career than his dreamy pastoral life. Clothed in a picturesque
costume, half Spanish, half Indian; his _machete_ (or cutlass) thrust
through a belt of leather, his _poncho_ (a chequered mantle) over his
shoulder, and the redoubtable _lasso_ suspended in a coil to his
saddle-bow; armed with the clumsy lance, which serves to drive his herd
before him, and, at need, to vindicate its owner's courage in some
partisan affray; the llanero, never thinking of the past, never dreaming
of the future, on the alert in every danger, and accustomed to the
severest privations, enjoys with intoxication the rude happiness of his
wild freedom.

[Illustration: PAMPAS OF SOUTH AMERICA.]

The Llanos of Venezuela occupy a superficial area, estimated, according
to Humboldt, at 153,000 square miles, between the deltas of the Orinoco
and the river Coqueta. They are as flat as the surface of the sea, and
covered with long rank grass. You might travel over the dreary level for
1100 miles from the delta of the Orinoco to the foot of the Andes of
Pasto, and frequently not encounter an eminence a foot high in 270
square miles. Their length is twice that of their breadth; and as the
wind blows constantly from the east, the climate is the more ardent the
further west. "These Steppes, for the most part," says Mrs.
Somerville,[92] "are destitute of trees or bushes, yet in some places
they are dotted with the mauritia and other palms." Flat as they are,
two kinds of inequalities will sometimes occur: one consists of banks or
shoals of grit or compact limestone, five or six feet high, perfectly
level for several leagues, and imperceptible except on their edges; the
other inequality can only be detected by the barometer or levelling
instruments; it is called a _Mesa_, and is a gentle knoll swelling very
gradually to an elevation of a few fathoms. Yet slight as is this
altitude, a Mesa forms the watershed from south-west to north-east,
between the affluents of the Orinoco and the streams flowing to the
northern coast of Terra Firma. In the wet season, from April to the end
of October, the tropical rains pour down in torrents, and hundreds of
square miles of the Llanos are inundated by the overflow of the rivers.
In the hollows the water is sometimes twelve feet deep, and such numbers
of horses and other animals perish, that the ground smells strongly of
musk, an odour peculiar to many quadrupeds. "From the flatness of the
country, too, the waters of some affluents of the Orinoco are driven
backwards by the floods of that river, especially when aided by the
wind, and form temporary lakes. When the waters subside, these Steppes,
manured by the sediment, are mantled with verdure, and produce ananas,
while occasional groups of fan palm-trees and mimosas skirt the rivers.
When the dry weather returns, the grass is burnt to powder; the air is
filled with dust raised by currents occasioned by difference of
temperature, even when there is no wind. If by any accident a spark of
fire falls on the scorched plains, a conflagration spreads from river to
river, destroying every animal, and leaves the clayey soil sterile for
years, till vicissitudes of weather crumble the brick-like surface into
earth."

When this takes place, the rending of the indurated soil is sudden and
violent, as if from the shock of an earthquake. If at such a time two
opposing currents of air, whose conflict produces a rotatory motion,
come in contact with the surface of the earth, the Llanos assume a
strange and singular aspect. Like cone-shaped clouds, whose extremities
seem to touch the ground, the sand rises through the rarefied air in the
electrically-charged centre of the whirling current; like the
sand-spouts of the Saharan Desert, or the waterspouts which formerly
were the awe and dread of the mariner. Then does the lowering sky cast a
"dim uncertain light," like a November fog in London, on the desolate
plain. The horizon draws suddenly nearer; the Steppe seems to contract,
and a nameless terror seizes the heart of the wanderer. The hot dusty
air increases in suffocating heat; and the east wind, blowing over the
long-heated soil, yields no refreshment, but rather oppresses with its
burning glow. The pools, hitherto protected from evaporation by the
yellow fading branches of the fan palm, begin to disappear. As in the
north the animals grow torpid with the mortal cold, so under the
influence of the parching drought the boa and the crocodile fall asleep,
buried deeply in the dry mud. Everywhere the drought prevails, and yet
everywhere the refracted rays of light delude the traveller with the
image of gleaming lakes and rushing rivers. The distant palm bush hovers
above the ground like a spectre, apparently raised by the influence of
the contact of unequally heated, and, therefore, unequally dense strata
of air. Half hidden by the rolling clouds of dust, restless with the
pangs of thirst and hunger, the horses and cattle roam around, the
cattle dismally lowing, and the horses stretching out their long necks
and snuffing the wind, in the hope some moister current may betray the
neighbourhood of a not wholly failing pool. More sagacious and astute,
the wary mule seeks a different mode of alleviating his thirst. Under
its prickly envelope the melon-cactus conceals a watery pith. The mule
first strikes the prickles aside with his fore-feet, and then cautiously
approaches his lips to the plant and drinks the cool juice. But the
experiment is not always without danger, and many animals are lamed by
the spines of the cactus.

When the overpowering heat of the day is followed by the cooler
temperature of the night, which is always of the same length in these
latitudes, even then the cattle can obtain no repose. Enormous bats suck
their blood like the fabled vampires during their sleep, or attach
themselves to their backs, causing festering wounds in which mosquitoes,
horse-flies, and a host of stinging insects, niche themselves. Thus the
animals lead a weary life during the hot season. But at length, after
the long drought and the parching glow, comes the welcome rain! Then
takes place a transformation such as the fancy of the poet never
surpassed or equalled. The deep blue of the hitherto unclouded sky grows
lighter; the dark space in the constellation of the Southern Cross is
hardly distinguishable at night; the soft phosphorescent lustre of the
so-called Magellanic clouds "fades, fades, and falls away;" even the
stars in Aquila and Ophiucus in the zenith beam with a tremulous and
less planetary radiance. And lo, yonder in the south, a single cloud,
like the peak of some remote mountain, soars perpendicularly from the
horizon. Gradually the gathering vapours fold over the sky. Hark! The
thunder is pealing in the distance, and louder and nearer come its awful
reverberation. It heralds the life-restoring rain! Scarcely has the
genial moisture refreshened earth, before a blessed fragrance breathes
from the previously barren Steppe, and its nakedness is clothed upon
with the bloom and beauty of a thousand grasses. The herbaceous mimosas,
with renewed sensibility to the influence of light, open their drooping
leaves to greet the rising sun; and the rosy-fingered morn is saluted
with a glad chorus of birds, and by the opening blossoms of the
water-plants. Now the horse bounds over the plain in keen ecstasy of
spirit, and the cattle grazes plentifully on the fresh green herbage.
Yet the new life is not without its peril. _Anguis latet in herbâ._
Among the tall thick grass lurks the spotted jaguar, the tiger of the
New World, and measures carefully the distance that separates him from
his unsuspecting victim.

Sometimes (so say the natives) the moistened clay on the margin of the
swamps will blister and swell slowly into a kind of mound until, with a
violent noise, like the outbreak of a small mud volcano, the accumulated
earth is cast high into the air. The spectator who comprehends the
purport of this strange scene immediately retreats, for he knows that
the birth of the portentous travail will be a gigantic water-snake or
huge crocodile roused from its torpidity.

The rivers which bound the plain to the south--the Arauca, the Apure,
and the Pajara--gradually swell, and now Nature compels the same
animals, which in the first half of the year panted with thirst on the
dry and dusty soil, to adopt an amphibious life. A portion of the Steppe
now assumes the aspect of a vast inland sea.[93] The brood mares retire
with their foals to the more elevated banks, which rise like islands
above the watery expanse. Every day the dry space grows smaller. It is a
miniature reproduction of the Noachian Deluge. The animals, crowded
together, swim about for hours in quest of other pasture, and feed
sparingly on the tops of the flowering grasses that spring above the
seething surface of the turbid waters. Many foals are drowned, and many
are surprised by the crocodiles, killed by a blow from their powerful
tails, and devoured. It is no uncommon thing to see the marks of these
monsters' cruel teeth on the legs of horses and cattle which have
narrowly escaped from their blood-thirsty jaws. Such a sight reminds the
thoughtful observer of that capability of adaptation to the most varied
circumstances with which the all-powerful Creator has endowed certain
animals and plants.[94]

The Pampas of Pernambuco and Buenos Ayres have three times the
superficial area of the Llanos of Venezuela. So great is their extent,
that while forests of palms border them on the north, they are covered
with snow in the south, during a great part of the year, like the
northern Steppes of Tartary. According to the climatic divisions
generally adopted, these regions belong to the Temperate Zone; but in
truth they comprehend a great variety of climates. Their character is
not less grand or original than that of the Llanos which precede them.
"The Pampas," says an American writer, "surpass in majesty all the
marvels of the new continent, and yet they astonish the traveller by the
air of abandonment and sadness which is impressed upon them, especially
in the low country watered by the Plata. Traces of life are there
infrequent; still rarer are the objects which attract attention. Here,
at the bottom of a crevasse, a cactus conceals its head bristling with
spines; there, a solitary tree rises majestically toward heaven.
Sometimes, upon the plain, the eye discovers the monstrous skeleton of
an animal which flourished in those remote times when the Alps still
slept in the depths of ocean, and dreamed not of blending their
snow-burdened peaks with the clouds. The Pampas serve as the
burial-place for races of gigantic men, now extinct, who seem to issue
from their silent graves in testimony to the former being of vanished
generations, and to bear witness to the Creator of all things. Above
your head, and far away in the azure of heaven, you perceive a black
point; it is a condor describing slowly its sinister circles. In the
distance passes and disappears the ungainly figure of an ostrich. The
inexpressible charm of these solitudes is their absolute freedom. And
while traversing them the wayfarer comprehends the love with which they
inspire the Indian, whose hope it is to meet beyond this world with yet
vaster horizons for the indulgence of his wandering tastes."

At the southern extremity of South America spreads a sterile plain, sown
with pebbles and blocks of porphyry: it is Patagonia. As we retrace our
steps towards the north, the soil rises before us in terrace after
terrace, till it reaches the base of the Cordilleras. In the northern
districts the pebbly soil gives place to verdant meadows, where the
Patagonians breed numerous herds of horses and cattle. Water is wanting
in this country. The rains are rare, and the dry seasons very prolonged.
The summer heat is overwhelming; in winter violent winds sweep the
Savannahs, which are covered with nocturnal frosts. Under such climatic
influences the soil produces only a dry coarse grass. In the interior a
few beeches and cacti are met with, and then broad swamps, fringed with
reeds and rushes. In the spring a mantle of clover spreads over the
earth, but only to be withered up by the first heats of summer.

Along the banks of the Rio Negro the Pampas of Buenos Ayres stretch from
the coast of the Atlantic to the foot of the Andes. On a considerable
portion of this vast area marshes of salt water encroach--a phenomenon
all the more curious because the salt lies only on the surface, and all
the wells artificially excavated yield fresh water. During the rains the
low grounds are flooded; but as soon as the sun has dried up the plain,
it is clothed in rich pasturage, while the elevated table-lands are dry
and withered. There, too, the dryness is often attended with disastrous
results. From 1827 to 1830, as Mr. Darwin records, not a drop of water
fell; all traces of vegetation disappeared; the rivers ran dry, and the
herds perished in incalculable numbers; in the single province of Buenos
Ayres, the loss was estimated at more than a million head of cattle.

To the north of the Rio Salado, at the portals of the Andes, the country
assumes a look of implacable desolation; no winds ever agitate the lower
strata of the atmosphere. The water-courses which descend from the
mountains lose themselves in the sand; salt marshes, whence the very
birds hold aloof, alone alternate with a soil everywhere intersected by
crevices. The district of the Pampas which stretches northward to the
spurs of the Andes consists of a sandy soil, free from salt, but wholly
unproductive. These solitudes, however, are ploughed by running streams,
none of which communicate with the sea. They descend from the Andes,
traverse the Pampas from east to west, and empty themselves into the
saline lakes. Somewhat further to the north, and nearer the Equator,
lies an almost unknown region of salt--a region of indescribable gloom,
where neither tree, nor bush, nor blade of emerald grass, delights the
eye. Eighteen months frequently elapse in this land of desolation,
worthy of being one of the circles in Dante's "Inferno," without the
cheering sound of a shower of rain, and when at length it arrives, it
splits the rocks of salt and melts them into wide pools of brackish
mud. As soon as the sun has absorbed the excessive humidity of the soil,
myriads of salt crystals glitter on the surface, and convert the Desert
into one immense mirror.

To the north-west of La Plata extends a desert of very different
character--the _Despoblado_, or uninhabited land, a plateau of the
Andes, rising some 4200 feet above the level of the sea. This desert is
cloven into two portions by a deep valley, bordered with sharp rocks,
which affords the only practicable route from Bolivia to Buenos Ayres.
Winter, in this sombre world within a world, is a time of horror, when
the spirit of Desolation goes to and fro in wrath unchained. Yet even
here humanity drags about the fetters of existence. The traveller
occasionally alights upon the wretched huts where the unfortunate
descendants of the ancient Peruvians linger through life. Their wealth
consists in a few llamas. Their occupation, in hunting the alpaca, the
guanaco, and the chinchilla; in filtering the river sands for scanty
grains of gold; in collecting salt, and disposing of it to the
inhabitants of the nearest towns.

"The aspect of the Puna, or Despoblado," says Von Tschudi,[95] "is
singularly monotonous and dreary. The expansive levels are scantily
covered with grasses of a yellowish-brown hue, and are never enlivened
by fresh-looking verdure. Here and there, at distant intervals, may be
seen a few stunted Quenera trees,[96] or large patches of ground covered
with the Ratanbia shrub.[97] Both are used by the Indians as fuel, and
for roofing their huts. The cold climate and sterile soil are formidable
impediments to agriculture. Only one plant is cultivated in these
regions with any degree of success. It is the _maca_, a tuberous root
grown like the potato, and, like it, used as an article of food. In many
of the Puna districts it constitutes the principal sustenance of the
inhabitants. It has an agreeable and somewhat sweetish flavour, and when
boiled in milk it tastes like the chestnut."

The most imposing spectacle presented by the Deserts of South America is
that of their frequent hurricanes. As the Simoom to the Sahara, so is
the Pampero to the Pampas. Its approach is foretold by signs which the
native's experienced eye readily recognizes. All at once the air seems
stricken motionless, and over the solitude broods a solemn silence. A
cloud white and light as snow--a cloud "no bigger than a man's
hand"--rises in the south-west. It advances, and as it advances enlarges
its proportions. Other clouds appear, and all gather into one imposing
mass. The dust rises and whirls round in thick columns suspended between
heaven and earth. Lower and lower descend the congregated vapours, until
they envelop the earth in a funeral shroud, whose folds the hurricane
incessantly agitates, and which the forked lightnings seem to rend in
fragments. Suffocating gusts of a fiery wind traverse space. And now the
sudden tempest stoops down from the summit of the Andes, and sweeps the
Savannah with resistless fury. Enormous masses of sand, upgathered by
the _rafale_, obscure the clearness of day; at noon the earth is covered
with a darkness that may be felt. The thunder mingles its roar with the
strident voices of the storm. All that lives, all that breathes, is at
the mercy of the unchained elements, which are as pitiless in their
wrath as a roused people. Thousands of animals perish in the Savannahs;
and prostrate, with his face to the earth, man tremblingly awaits the
expiring breath of the grand convulsion!

The horses and cattle of Europe are replaced in the Pampas of South
America by the herds of guanacos and llamas which covered them at the
epoch of the Spanish conquest. Their owners, descendants of the
Spaniards intermingled with the native races, possess many of the
characteristics of the Arab.

Like the llanero of Venezuela, the guacho of the Pampas realizes the
idea of the ancient centaur; and from the throne of his saddle, to which
hangs the inseparable _lasso_, he surveys the plains where he is lord
and king with the fiery glance of a free and independent spirit. He owes
scant allegiance to any established authority, and under the blue sky of
heaven enjoys the blessings of uncontrolled freedom. And what to him
the fever and turmoil of civilization, when, mounted on his noble steed,
he can roam at will, with none to say him nay, over leagues and leagues
of grassy prairies!



CHAPTER III.

THE AUSTRALIAN INTERIOR.


Geographers have given the name of the "fifth division of the globe" to
that immense archipelago, or rather, that mass of archipelagoes which
remote geological convulsions have elevated in the Pacific Ocean,
between the three continents, Asia, Africa, and America, and whose
existence was first revealed to the Western World by the maritime
explorations of the Portuguese and the Dutch, in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries. From the epoch when these enterprises commenced,
the spherical figure of the earth was established beyond dispute; and
after the discovery of America, it became only reasonable to suppose
that, in virtue of a law without which our planet could not have
maintained its equilibrium in space, there must exist a continent
intended to balance those of the Northern Hemisphere. But for many years
all the researches of intrepid navigators only led them to the shores of
small islands and islets, not a few of which were barren, uninhabited,
and swept by the winds of ocean; while others, girdled with palms,
enriched with vegetation, and blessed by bland and genial airs, seemed
to realize the poetical idea of the Fortunate Islands,

    "Summer isles of Eden lying in dark purple spheres of sea."

At length, however, by directing their investigations towards the less
submerged region of the Indian Ocean, and by sailing beyond the great
eastern islands which seem to have been formerly connected with the
Indian Peninsula, the Portuguese mariners were the first to descry a
long line of coast which they did not doubt was that of an Austral
Continent, whose satellites, so to speak, were the previously discovered
islands. This supposed continent is still represented in the old maps
published at the close of the seventeenth and the beginning of the
eighteenth centuries, by a mass of ill-defined contours, with this
indication: _Terra Australis incognita_. The succeeding voyages of
Carpenter, Nuyts, Tasman, and the illustrious Cook, proved that this
Austral or Southern Land was in effect a continent, or, at least, an
island of extraordinary dimensions, whose coasts alone--and these but a
small extent inland--were inhabited by miserable tribes, with black
skin, and hideous features, placed at the extreme limit which separates
man from the brute. The Dutch navigators, who had first determined the
principal outlines of this continent, named it New Holland, but after it
passed into the hands of England, it received, as it still preserves,
the appellation of Australia.

Take away from this Australian Continent its fertile districts in the
south-east, where have sprung up and developed with amazing rapidity the
flourishing colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, and
what remains? A country entirely wild, and, one might almost venture to
say, an immense Desert. The gloomy aspect and the barrenness of its
northern shores, with few exceptions, had repulsed the early Portuguese
and Dutch navigators, who little suspected what splendid treasures were
hidden among its auriferous sands and rocks. They saw but insufficient
rivers and scanty vegetation, and went no further.

None of the rivers of New Holland are navigable to any great distance
from their mouths. The want of water is severely felt in the interior,
where a treeless desert of sand, swamps, and jungle is intersected by
streams called "creeks," which are dry for the greater portion of the
year; yet a belief long prevailed that a large sea or fresh-water lake
occupied the centre--a belief founded partly on the nature of the soil,
and partly on the circumstance that all the rivers that flow into the
sea on the northern coast, between the Gulf of Van Diemen and
Carpentaria, converge towards their sources, as if they served for
drains to some large body of water.

[Illustration: AUSTRALIAN LANDSCAPE.]

The eastern side of the country is traversed by a great range of thinly
timbered down, clothed with grasses and herbage, and rising to an
elevation of 3500 feet. These are known as the Blue Mountains, and
stretch from north to south over nearly thirty degrees of latitude, from
Cape York to Cape Wilson. All their western slopes descend gradually
towards the interior, until they are lost in the vast desert plain of
the interior.

The streams which flow in this direction either pour their waters into
the great rivers, such as the Darling and the Murray, which has an
internal navigation of 1800 miles, or lose themselves in the marshes and
lakes, which the great summer heats periodically dry up.

Another chain of mountains stretches from south to north along the
western coast of Australia, from Point d'Entrecasteaux to Murchison
River. A third chain, in the northern region, runs from east to west,
between Camden Harbour and the Gulf of Carpentaria. The interior of the
country is, as I have already indicated, in all probability an immense
plain, thinly sown with trees of the two families of Acaciæ and
Eucalypti, and tenanted by the wombat and the kangaroo.

Over this vast portion of Australia, which still remains a blank upon
the map, numerous expeditions of discovery have been attempted since the
earliest days of European colonization. Hardy pioneers--those men who
are the real, but obscure, and speedily forgotten founders of
empires--have sacrificed their lives in the endeavour to lay down a
track across the great island-continent from north to south. Anglo-Saxon
enterprise no sooner found itself securely planted on the sea-coast,
than it felt that behind it lay a continent to acquire, and the
indomitable instinct of the race bade it continue its mission of
colonization. During the last quarter of a century, the colonial
governments have liberally encouraged these explorations, and the annals
of Australian discovery have been illuminated by the names of Eyre
(1840), Sturt (1845), Leichardt (1846-48), Kennedy (1848), and M'Douall
Stuart (1858-62), second to none among our English discoverers in
patience, resolution, and heroic daring.

The problem remained: to cross the central wilderness of Australia, and
prove the possibility of a passage from the southern shores to the
northern, from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. This problem was
finally solved, at no light cost, by the intrepid Burke and energetic
Wills.

On the 20th of April 1860, there set out from Melbourne, under the
auspices of the Government of Victoria, a small troop of gallant
explorers, under the immediate direction of Robert O'Hara Burke, a man
well-fitted for his post: born in the county of Galway in 1821, after
having served as captain in a Hungarian regiment, he had discharged for
several years the duties of inspector of a body of the colonial police.

The second in command was a brave young Englishman, William John Wills,
twenty-six years of age, an assistant in the Observatory at Melbourne.

The expedition consisted of eighteen persons, and was provided with
horses, camels which had been expressly imported from Arabia, waggons,
all kinds of scientific instruments, and the necessary amount of stores
and provisions for a protracted journey.

Cooper's Creek, which marked about a third of the whole distance, was
fixed upon as place of rendezvous and as the final starting-point.
Thither, to save time, Burke and Wills, with six men, six camels, five
horses, and some months' provisions, proceeded in advance of the main
body; and arriving there on the 13th of December, Burke established a
depôt, left it in charge of Brahé, a petty officer, and three
assistants, and with Wills, a couple of men (King and Gray), the camels,
and one horse, plunged on the 16th into the trackless Australian
wilds.[98]

Keeping nearly due north, and near or upon the meridian of 140° E., they
traversed, day after day, well-watered plains, with numerous clumps of
wood, and tolerable indications of a good grazing country. On the 12th
of February 1861, the four travellers had conquered every obstacle, and
struck the marshes on the Albert River, which flows into the Gulf of
Carpentaria. Their goal was reached, and the problem of a connecting
route between north and south successfully solved.

The vast Australian solitudes hitherto traversed had presented every
variety of aspect, from the stony plateaux and the watery sands where
the rivers can keep no regular channel, and where wide spaces of dry
bare ground separate great shallows of brackish water, to finely
irrigated plains, clothed with herbs or bushes, and promising abundant
resources for future colonists. Meteorological phenomena present in
these regions the greatest uncertainties: either the dry season is so
protracted as to ruin all vegetation, or the rains so thoroughly deluge
the soil as by a contrary cause to ensure the same result. These
climatic contradictions explain the variations observable in the
narratives of the different travellers who have visited the interior.
One point, however, is beyond all doubt; the hopeless sterility of Nuyts
Land,--that immense sandy tract which, over an extent as yet unknown, is
regarded as impassable, and stretches along the southern coast between
Spencer Gulf and King George Harbour. As before said, the primary cause
of the barrenness of Central Australia is the lack of water--running
water and rain water. Yet the most sterile portions lie far nearer the
coast than was formerly credited; and monotonous as may be the
descriptions of explorers, so far as the landscapes of Central Australia
are concerned, we may from to-day consider that, with the exception of
certain points, no obstacles exist sufficiently powerful to arrest the
expansion of European colonization, in a country especially where
cattle-breeding is the principal industry, and the one which takes
precedence of all others.

The chief difficulty encountered by each exploring party has been the
penury of natural products of the soil adapted for human food. The
traveller is compelled to carry with him a sufficiency of provisions to
last him from his departure until his return. It was this insufficiency
of rations which wrought the fatal dénouement of the glorious enterprise
of Burke and Wills.

After reaching the Gulf of Carpentaria, there remained nothing more for
Burke and his three companions but to retrace their steps to their depôt
at Cooper's Creek. But their energies were exhausted, and from the
beginning of April their provisions failed them. At the close of ten or
twelve days' march, they were constrained to kill a horse. In the
following week, Gray succumbed to the excessive fatigue. The three
survivors dragged themselves on to the depôt, where they arrived on the
morning of the 21st of April. But the men whom they had left in charge
had taken their departure that very morning, after waiting long beyond
the time originally fixed for their return.

"You may imagine our consternation," says Wills in his Journal, under
the date of April 21st; "four months of harassing marches and privations
of every kind had completely exhausted our strength. It was an extremely
difficult task for either of us to accomplish a distance of only a few
yards. The effort necessary to ascend the smallest elevation of the
ground, even without a burden, induces an indescribable sensation of
pain and helplessness, and the general lassitude makes one unfit for
anything."

There was no resource now but to rejoin Brahé and his men, if possible.
Before quitting the depôt, the latter had left a small supply of
provisions, which proved eminently serviceable. On the 23rd Burke,
Wills, and King resumed their march, at the rate of four or five miles
a-day, in the direction of Mount Despair, which was about sixty miles
distant, and where were placed the most advanced posts, northward, of
South Australia. A terrible fatality, however, seemed to pursue them;
one of their camels, Landa, perished in a bog; the other, Rajah, they
were soon forced to kill for food; then they themselves were compelled
by sheer exhaustion to return to the depôt, which, meanwhile, had been
revisited by Brahé without his discovering a trace of their brief
sojourn. Thus abandoned to perish in the Desert, they existed upon the
bounty of such natives as they met with, and who occasionally supplied
them with a few fish and a little _nardoo_, an aquatic plant whose
pounded seeds the aborigines make into bread. Such a regimen was
insufficient to restore their exhausted strength.

[Illustration: BURKE, WILLS, AND KING IN THE DESERTS OF CENTRAL
AUSTRALIA.]

Early in June their afflictions were aggravated by a deplorable
catastrophe. The flames of their bivouac fire, driven by a strong wind,
reduced to ashes their hut and all that they possessed. There was
nothing for them now but to live with the friendly natives who had
succoured them. Unfortunately, they had disappeared. It was in vain they
attempted to seek them out; Burke and Wills never saw them again.

On Saturday the 29th of June, the latter, utterly exhausted, insisted
that his companions should leave him in the wilderness, while they
continued their search after the natives. Unwillingly they consented,
and taking a solemn farewell of their unfortunate comrade, they dragged
themselves away with aching hearts. Four or five days afterwards, King
returned with some birds he had contrived to kill, but found Wills
asleep in the arms of death. King was now alone, for the intrepid Burke
had also fallen a victim to the cruel spirit of the wilderness, resting
on the barren ground, with his face upturned to the southern stars. The
sole survivor was fortunate enough to fall in with the natives, who
welcomed him cordially, and carried him with them from camp to camp.
After two months and a half of this strange existence, he was discovered
by a relief party sent out from Melbourne, under the command of Mr.
Howitt (September 15, 1861), who also gathered the remains of the two
gallant but ill-fated leaders, and reverently consigned them to a decent
grave.

They had not died in vain. From the shores of Port Philip to those of
the Gulf of Carpentaria they had discovered and marked out a practicable
route; and when the great Australian colonies shall have pushed forward
into the interior, and have occupied the borders of the northern gulf,
they will remember with gratitude the brave explorers who sacrificed
their lives to effect the passage from one sea to the other.



CHAPTER IV.

VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE AFRICAN PLAINS.


The facts actually ascertained in reference to the Flora of the plains
of Central Africa, although as yet of a limited character, form as a
whole too comprehensive a subject to be fully discussed in these pages.
I must, therefore, confine myself to a rapid survey of the principal
botanical features of the countries whose general features and physical
aspect I have sketched in the preceding chapters.

Senegambia and Upper Guinea, on the west coast of Africa, form a low
table-land, situated upwards of 3000 feet above the sea-level, and
furrowed by deep gorges, in whose rocky beds the rivers roll and foam,
fed by the waters of numerous streams. Grassy savannahs and wide
cultivated areas are here inhabited by a numerous population. Several
travellers have explored these regions; but all have specially applied
themselves to make known the colossal plants which flourish therein, and
those, first and foremost, which have a particular interest, either from
their Anak-like stature or the manifold uses of their products. I shall
have occasion to speak of the arborescent species which, in this part of
the Old Continent, blend in immense and impenetrable forests. But owing
to this very circumstance we possess few details respecting the plants
which clothe the vast plains of Senegambia and Upper Guinea. We only
know that there, as everywhere, the great family of the Gramineæ is
largely represented. In general these species far exceed in height the
plants which make the wealth and glory of our English meads; and they
chiefly belong to the tribe of Paniceæ. A legion of Cassias inhabit the
low fresh hills of the Senegambian lands; and some are held in high
estimation for their fruit, as the Cassia, or Senna, which is considered
one of the most active purgatives. The species generally recognized as
best adapted for medicinal purposes are those with oboval and those with
obtuse leaves--_Cassia obovata_ and _Cassia obtusifolia_. The former is
a perennial herbaceous plant, from one to two feet high, with smooth
egg-shaped leaves and racemes of yellow flowers; the latter differs only
in the form of its leaves, which are short and broad, or obtuse.

Many of the cereals are cultivated in Senegambia on a very large scale;
but they differ wholly from those which engage the attention of the
European agriculturist. Barley will not grow even on the most elevated
plateaux, on account of the constant and excessive heat. It is true that
it will germinate; but it develops so rapidly that it passes through all
the phases of its vegetation in the space of a few weeks, and yields but
impoverished ears empty of grains; it is useless to the people of
Senegambia except as forage. But, on the other hand, there are numerous
Gramineæ adapted to hot regions, which the natives cultivate for their
uses. Among others I may name the Tocussa and the Coracan (_Eleasine
Tocussa_ and _E. Corocana_), with their curved digitate spikes and
productive seeds; the _Pennicellaria spicata_, or Guinea Corn, a very
tall grass, somewhat resembling maize, whose long cylindrical culms or
blades bear each a multitude of white round grains, which, ground into
meal, form very savoury cakes, as you may read in Mungo Park's Travels;
and the _Durra_, _Doura_, _Indian Millet_, or _Sorgho Grass_
(_Sorghum_), a coarse, strong, broad-leaved grass, four to eight feet
high, with a round grain a little larger than mustard seed; it is the
principal corn-plant of Africa, and exceedingly nutritious, the natives
employing it in the preparation of a favourite dish named Kouskoussou.

The cereals most widely cultivated in Senegal include the Colonial
Millet (_Oplismenus colonus_); the Abyssinian Meadow Grass (_Poa
Abyssinica_), called "Teff" in Abyssinia, whose seeds are used for
making bread, and whose blades yield an abundant herbage; Rice (_Oryza
sativa_), and different varieties of maize. Leguminous plants appear
wanting in Senegal. Their absence is probably due to the same causes as
those which we have indicated as affecting the growth of barley.
Cabbages and the different salads grow, in fact, with a rapidity which
prevents them from maturing; they flower in two or three weeks after
being sown. The inhabitants consequently resort to those alimentary
species which belong to hot countries, and which can only be obtained in
Europe at an enormous expense and by artificial means. Among the plants
with edible roots are various kinds of Yams (such as the _Dioscorea
alata_); Batatas (_Convolvulus Batatas_); and the Manioc or Manihot
(_Jatropha Manihot_),[99] better known as Cassava, which, although in
itself a deadly poison, is easily deprived by heat of its noxious
properties, and when roasted or boiled becomes a nutritious and highly
savoury food. It yields the valuable farinaceous material of Tapioca.
Its leaves are cooling and healing; from its seeds an excellent oil is
procured; and the juice which drops from its root serves for
empoisoning arrows. Good and evil are both strangely mixed in this
important plant.

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE AFRICAN PLAINS.

1. Guinea Corn (_Pennicillaria spicata_).
2. Sorgho Grass (_Sorghum cernuum_).
3. Manihot (_Jatropha Manihot_).
4. Yam (_Dioscorea alata_).
5. Screw Pine (_Pandanus candelabrum_).
6. Black Pepper (_Piper nigrum_).]

The _Corchorus olitorius_,[100] an annual cultivated in Egypt as a
potherb, is largely grown in Senegal for the tenacious fibres of its
root and the oily juices of its seeds. The Black Pepper (_Piper nigrum_)
of India and the Sunda Isles we find perfectly acclimatized in this part
of Africa, and it flourishes even in a wild state. Finally, the
Coffee-tree (_Coffea Arabica_), the Cocoa (_Theobroma Cacao_), Indigo
(_Indigofera tinctoria_), and the _Cocos oleracea_, are among the
cultivated plants of Senegambia.

In northern Guinea and the Gaboon, recently made famous by Du Chaillu's
discovery of the gorilla, Savannahs and cultivated districts are
intermingled, though their flora is still imperfectly known. A great
number of grasses adorn the fresh and humid prairies, and sedges and
reeds abound, while, on the river-banks, in shady nooks, flourish some
of the Screw-pine tribe,[101] notably the _Pandanus Candelabrum_, a
highly curious plant, which attracts one's attention by its mode of
vegetation, its graceful ribbon-like foliage, and its small fragrant
flowers. Thatching and cordage are obtained from the fibrous leaves; the
fruit resembles a richly-coloured pine-apple, but is insipid to the
taste.

The Savannahs of the neighbouring provinces, and especially those of the
Gold Coast, are in general sparsely inhabited, nor are those on the
banks of the Niger an exception; man shrinks from a region which the
deadly malaria seems to claim as its own. The flora is very poor,
consisting chiefly of aquatic grasses, with blades of moderate height,
and leaves of comparatively little succulence. The herbaceous plants,
suitable for food or industrial uses, which are most frequently met with
in Guinea and the Gaboon, resemble those already described as belonging
also to Senegambia. But there are many different Arums, such as the
_Caladium segmium_ and _Colocasia mucronatum_, properly known as Taro,
Tara, or Tayo, and employed in making granulate sugar from the stem of
the former, and in boiling or roasting for food the rhizomæ of the
latter; Tobacco; the ox-heart Annona, a plant sometimes cultivated in
Europe, where it never fructifies, though its aromatic fruits are its
most valuable product, and are highly esteemed by the Africans,--these
"Custard Apples" resembling thick cream, and being eaten, like cream,
with a spoon; the Banana,[102] with its gigantic foliage--precious "Musa
Sapientum "--valuable not only to "wise men," but foolish men, as a
substitute for wheat or the breadfruit tree, and gratifying the savage
with a succulent and nutritious food. Forty or fifty banana plants will
flourish in a square space of one thousand feet, and an acre of ground
will yield sufficient provision for fifty men. That area of land which,
sown with wheat, would feed only one man, will nourish five-and-twenty
if planted with bananas.

I must not forget the Pistachios,[103] which flourish spontaneously in
the vast plains of Central Africa, and the highly valuable Sugar Cane
(_Saccharum officinarum_), which, like the Cotton Plant, has rendered
inestimable services to man, and yet has been the origin of unutterable
crime and misery, promoting by its cultivation the accursed slave-trade.
The Vine (_Vitis vinifera_) is cultivated in a few districts. Among the
herbaceous or sub-frutescent plants peculiar to this region, and which
enjoy a certain reputation on account of the utility of their products,
I may name the following:--

The Calebash Nutmeg (_Monodora myristica_), one of the Annonaceæ,
remarkable for its withered fruits, which, when rasped like its seeds,
furnish a condiment deservedly esteemed by the natives; Guinea Pepper
(_Uvaria Æthiopica_), whose properties are well known and appreciated in
this part of Western Africa; and finally, one of the Cucurbitaceæ, the
_Telfairia pedata_, whose seeds enclose a very oleaginous substance.

To the east, in Nigritia or the Soudan, the country is nearly level,
although situated at an elevation of 1200 to 1300 feet above the sea.
The vegetation here is very scanty; yet the copious tropical rains
favour the growth of plants suitable for the provender of cattle;
pastures are abundant, and formed by the principal Grasses (Panicum
Setaria, and the like), the Sedges, Rushes, &c. These meads are clothed
with verdure for three or four months of the year, and much frequented
by the shepherds who dwell in the vicinity of Lake Tchad.

Still further eastward, if we continue our wanderings, we plunge into
the warm regions of Darfour and Kordofan. Here the country is cast in
bold outlines; numerous lofty mountain-chains are intersected by narrow
valleys and smooth expanses of meadow-land. All that portion of Kordofan
which lies west of the White Nile is a Prairie some thirty-five miles
long by twenty-eight broad, stretching towards the rising sun, and
relieved by small patches of shrubs of the family _Leguminosæ_,
especially the Mimosa, with its graceful shrinking foliage, which
shudders at the lightest touch, and its spherical rose-hued or
snow-white blossoms.

These meadow-lands suffer from excessive aridity; it is only with an
arduous struggle that a few grasses resist the dryness which almost
constantly prevails; and frequently, as is the case in other parts of
Western Africa, the inhabitants can only procure water for their needs
by sinking wells of extraordinary depth. Less arid, the southern part of
Kordofan is better clothed with vegetation; the country is more broken,
and increases in picturesqueness of aspect as we approach the
neighbourhood of Mount Tegeler. Sennaar, which is traversed by the Blue
Nile, is far from offering an equally luxuriant vegetation: along the
river extends a vast belt of meadow, generally barren, or only blessed
with a few herbaceous plants, a few Leguminosæ, with deeply-buried
roots; and its aspect, therefore, is one of great gloom. The landscape
wants

    "The glory in the grass, and the splendour in the flower"

which appeal so potently to the sensibilities of the poet. Nor does the
scenery improve as we ascend the Sennaar to the Lake of Zana, situated
to the south-east, for though the rich black soil of the Kulla valley
nourishes a profuse vegetation, it is the vegetation peculiar to the
marsh and the swamp; the wind rushes through thick sedges, and
whispering reeds, and waving grasses. On the northern borders of the
lake the pasturages are fresh and green, and a man might easily lurk
unseen among their gigantic Gramineæ, the Panicas and the Setarias.
Still keeping our faces eastward, like the Ghebirs of ancient Iran, we
perceive that Abyssinia is divided into two parts by the River Tacazze,
an affluent of the Nile; the western being called Amhora, and the
eastern Tigré. Owing to its peculiar geographical configuration and the
elevation of its mountains, Abyssinia rejoices in a wholly special
Flora. In the Semen, west of the Tacazze, there is a mountain lifting
its crest above the limit of perpetual snow, or to an altitude of 14,000
feet. Up to a height of 6500 feet its slopes are thickly carpeted with
fresh and fragrant sward, and the air throbs with the music of a hundred
streams which flow from the perennial fountains of ice and snow.

In the Tigré the country is not fertile, nor is it well populated. Its
geological features are interesting, for we meet everywhere with
isolated masses of limestone, arranged generally in horizontal strata of
various extent, and bearing indisputable traces of a vast volcanic
labour. On the coast of the Red Sea, the oriental slopes only present at
their base a few scattered thickets chiefly composed of thorny shrubs
and the Leguminosæ. We meet also with various kinds of Aloes and
Euphorbiaceæ (Spurge-Worts), as the _Euphorbia neriifolia_, _Euphorbia
grandidens_, and _Euphorbia Abyssinica_. It is said that King Juba II.,
of Mauritania, discovered the plant growing on Mount Atlas, wrote a
short treatise on its virtues, and named it after his physician
Euphorbos (about the end of the first century B.C.) The root, generally
speaking, is aperient, and the milky juice useful in cases of rheumatism
and cramp.

The plains of Tigré present a beautiful appearance with the variety of
flowers that bloom among the grass; including a kind of scarlet aloe,
which is to be met with almost everywhere in Tigré, and appears, like
our gorse, to flower at all seasons, forming a graceful object in the
foreground. The many varieties of mimosas, too, with their
different-coloured blossoms--pink, yellow, and white--appear to be
spread over the whole face of the country, whether rock or plain, hill
or valley. "When in blossom," says an English traveller,[104] "many of
them emit a fragrance so powerful as to render the whole neighbourhood
more odorous than a perfumer's shop. The jessamine is seen in profusion
in many parts, but principally on the hills; and there is also a
beautiful parasitical creeper (an æschynanthus), which grows, like the
mistletoe, from the bark of other trees. It has a bright dark-green
fleshy leaf, with brilliant scarlet flowers."

The same traveller describes a tree called the _dima_,[105] which,
though not very solid as food, adds much to the flavour of the
_cuisine_. It has a large greenish shell, some nine inches long; inside
of it lie a number of seeds, and attached to them by fibres a quantity
of yellowish-white cakey powder, having a sweetish acid taste, and when
mixed with water forming an agreeable beverage, somewhat resembling
lemonade. The Abyssinians mix with it red pepper and salt, and eat it as
a relish with their bread. When the tree reaches a certain size, its
trunk almost always becomes hollow; and then it frequently contains a
store of wild honey, which may easily be obtained by means of a small
axe and fire.

More to the south, in the Shoa, we meet with an almost analogous
vegetation: the Socotrine Aloes (_Aloe socotrina_), which supplies our
Pharmacopoeia with an active cathartic, is particularly abundant. The
_Celastrus edulis_,[106] a small branching shrub whose leaves possess
very similar properties to those of the Tea-plant, and are employed for
the same purpose by the Abyssinians, is widely cultivated. The Arabs
distil from them a stimulating drink called Kat. Nor should I forget the
Cousso, or Casso, named after its discoverer _Brayera anthelmintica_,[107]
an infusion of whose bark or leaves forms one of the most powerful
vermifuges in the world; and the _Musa ensete_, a magnificent banana,
with gigantic leaves and nerves of a vivid red, which now flourishes in
our European plantations.

Among the cultivated plants may be included most of those which I have
noticed under the head of Senegambia; while, owing to the considerable
elevation of the mountains, we find many others which belong to cool and
temperate climates--such, for example, as rye and barley. The Sugar
Cane, the Pomegranate, and numerous Aurantiaceæ, as, for example, the
Citron and the Orange, have been likewise introduced into this part of
Southern Africa.

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE IN SOUTH AFRICA.

1. Mesembryanthemum inflexum.
2. Hottentot's Fig (_Mes. edule_).
3. Euphorbia neriifolia.
4. Euphorbia grandidens.
5. Stapelia hirsuta.]

From the coast of Aden, where almost complete sterility prevails prior
to the rainy season--from the coast of Aden to Cape Guardafui, situated
at the easternmost point of Africa, the traveller encounters a constant
succession of mountains or elevated table-lands, haunted by the
shepherds of the Somali tribes,--a people notorious for their
brigandage. Respecting the coast of Ajan we know but little, except
that its arid and sandy soil supports a scanty vegetation of stunted
plants. The Zanguebar coast is not more familiar to the botanist, and is
mainly covered with marshes.

But the littoral of Western Africa is gifted with a flora as luxuriant
as it is varied. According to Dr. Welwitsch, who has explored this
region, previously almost a _terra incognita_ to Europeans, "the special
feature in the neighbourhood of Benguela is the abundance of parasitical
_Lorunthaceæ_, or mistletoe, on the thickets of the thorny Mimosa, to
which are attached those Roccellæ (or Archils), the _Roccella tinctoria_
and _R. fuciformis_, that yield so brilliant a lilac dye. In the gardens
of Benguela the vegetables of Europe are most successfully cultivated,
as well as a great number of fruit trees belonging both to tropical and
temperate climes: citron and orange, the olive, the cashew-nut, the
anana, the fig, the vine, the pomegranate, the elais-palm, the banana,
the anona, and the corrossol. The vine bears grapes twice every year,
and the crop on each occasion is abundant and of fine flavour. The
gardens in the vicinity of Mossamèdes, between the fifteenth and
sixteenth parallels of south latitude, exhibit a curious medley of
vegetables on every side, where you may see flourishing side by side the
banana and the potato, manioc and wheat, sugar-cane and flax, barley,
and every kind of Spanish potato."

A few miles from Cape Negro the coast rises for from 300 to 350 feet
above the sea-level, forming a continuous plateau, where the flora,
though meagre when compared with that a little further to the north,
offers nevertheless to the traveller some objects of the highest
interest. It was here that Dr. Welwitsch met with the strange plant
which, in commemoration of its intrepid discoverer, Sir William Hooker
named _Welwitschia_,[108] but which the natives call _Tumboa_. "In its
youth its two original cotyledonary leaves appear to grow considerably,
and extend horizontally in opposite directions, raised but little above
the surface of the sand, whilst the intervening stock thickens and
hardens, assuming an obconical shape, flat at the top, and rapidly
tapering below into the descending root. As years go on, the original
pair of leaves, having attained their full size, and a hard, tough,
fibrous consistence, do not die away, but gradually split up into
shreds; the woody mass which bears them rises very little higher, but
increases horizontally both above and below the insertion of the leaves,
so as to clasp their base in a deep marginal slit or cavity; and from
the upper side, at the base of the leaf, several short flowering stalks
are annually developed. These are erect, dichotomously branched jointed
stems, rising from six inches to a foot in height, and bearing a pair of
small opposite scales at each fork or joint, each branch being
terminated by an oblong cone, under the scales of which are the flowers
and seeds. The result is, that the country is studded with these
misshapen table-like or anvil-like masses of wood, whose flat tops,
pitted with the scars of old flowering stems, never rise above a foot
from the ground, but vary, according to age, in a horizontal diameter of
from a few inches to five or six feet--those of about eighteen inches
diameter being supposed to be already above a hundred years old."[109]

These fantastic monstrous shapes were found by Dr. Welwitsch, with their
deeply-embedded roots, on the dry plateau of the Benguela coast, in 15°
40´ south latitude. Herr Montein met with it in a perfectly similar
situation on quartzose soil, in the neighbourhood of the Nicolas River,
14° 20´ south latitude; and Mr. Baines and Mr. Anderson, in Dawaraland,
between 22° and 23° south latitude, in the neighbourhood of Whalefish
Bay, and in a district where never a drop of rain falls. We may
therefore place the _habitat_ of this remarkable plant between the 14th
and 23rd parallels of south latitude. The crown, when divested of its
leaves, bears a close resemblance to a fungus.

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE OF CAPE COLONY.

1. Aloe verrucosa.
2. Aloe soccotrina.
3. Aloe ciliaris.
4. Aloe arborescens.
5. Aloe plicatilis.
6. Gladiolus blandus.]

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE OF CAPE COLONY.

1. Helichrysum fruticosum.
2. Erica Cavendishiana.
3. Protea longifolia.
4. Todea Africana.]

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE OF CAPE COLONY.

1. Pelargonium hederæfolium (Ivy-leaved Geranium).
2. Oxalis rosacea (Wood-Sorrel).
3. Pelargonium glaucum.
4. Pelargonium zonale (Zone-leaved Geranium).
5. Pelargonium tricuspidatum.]

If we now approach the Cape of Good Hope--the Cabo del Tormentoso, or
"Cape of Storms," of the early navigators--we shall observe a
characteristic vegetation peculiar to a solid or stony soil, sometimes
hilly, but generally dry. It is in the desolate and barren steppes
situated within the confines of Caffraria that those splendid
herbaceous bulbous plants display their beauties, which are now familiar
to our English gardens under the names of Gladiolus, Oxalis, Ixia, and
Tulbaya. To those magnificent ornaments of the floral world we must add
some less known plants, remarkable in other respects; such as the
_Mollugo cerviana_, which, with a few Ficoideæ, form the almost
exclusive nourishment of the herbivorous animals belonging to these
countries. The Gramineæ are rare in the plains of Cape Colony, but, on
the other hand, they contain a number of oleaginous plants included in
divers families. Here, for instance, are those singular _Compositæ_,
whose stems so closely resemble waxen tapers; several Ficoideæ, of which
some species--as, notably, the _Mesembryanthemum edule_, or Hottentot's
Fig, distributed over the interior of Southern Africa, and the
_Mesembryanthemum tuberosum_--are eagerly sought by the Hottentots,
Caffres, and natives generally, who eat the fruits of the former and the
roots of the latter; the _Stapelia hirsuta_, or Carrion Plant, and
several others of the same genus, whose carrion-smelling flowers are
singularly handsome, though their odour is most offensive; a great
number of aloes, particularly the _Aloe verrucosa_, _A. ciliaris_, _A.
plicatilis_, and _A. arborescens_, each distinguished by a strange
wayward boldness of form and figure; and, finally, those larger
Euphorbias of which I have already spoken, and which yield a white milky
juice that hardens on exposure to the air. It is mainly on the slopes or
stony hills of the Cape that we meet with numerous and remarkable
species of the Immortelles, with their white, yellow, or lilac, and
satin-smooth flowers. The woody Immortelle (_Helichrysum fruticosum_)
is one of those peculiar to the Cape districts. It is in analogous but
more sandy localities that those graceful little shrubs, with varied
corollas, flourish, which are so popular in England under the name of
_Ericas_, and which frequently exhibit the highest beauty of form and
colour. In the engraving is figured the exquisite _Erica Cavendishiana_,
a deservedly great favourite in our English conservatories. There, too,
the traveller delightedly examines the almost interminable succession of
Pelargoniums, or Geraniums, rich in clusters of delicate bloom, and in
exquisitely green foliage. What a blank would their absence leave in our
blossomy parterres! Here and there he notes dense coppices of the
Arduinia spinosa, the Lycium Afrum, the Euclæa ondulata, whose berries
are eaten by the Hottentots; several species of Rhus,[110] among others
the _Rhus lucidum_; and, finally, a great number of the strange
fantastic Proteaceæ, with their hard dry evergreen leaves and curiously
beautiful flowers. At the foot of the mountains, in the countries
bordering on Caffraria, different Cycadaceæ are found, especially the
_Zamia_ and _Encephalartus_, an elegant plant with a short spherical
trunk, surmounted by a crown of long rigid palmated leaves. The natives
prepare with their pith a species of cake which they eat instead of
bread. Ferns are not numerous at the Cape; the most remarkable,
undoubtedly, is the _Todea Africana_. The hills and meadows of this part
of South Africa do not always exhibit so marked an aridity; rivers and
streams refresh the soil, and there, where the current is not too swift
nor the depth too great, grows the beautiful _Calla_ of Ethiopia, a
species of Aroidea, whose snow-white fragrant flowers resemble a large
horn in shape; the _Aponogeton distachyum_, another aquatic plant, with
white flowers and floating leaves, is not less common in similar
positions; then on the banks, in fresh and shady nooks of greenery,
thrives the _Strelitzia reginæ_, a gorgeous-flowered genus of _Musaceæ_,
named after Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, queen of George III. The
foliage of this magnificent plant consists of long-stalked leaves
sheathing at the base, arising from a contracted stem, the flower stalk
encircled below by the sheath of the leaf-stalk; while from its upper
portion springs a large bract or spathe placed obliquely, within which
lie the flowers, resplendent in orange and purple.

In the Desert of Kalahari exists an abundant and varied vegetation.
According to Dr. Livingstone, it is an immense plain which nourishes a
prodigious quantity of herbaceous plants, generally of very small
elevation, and besprinkled at intervals with thickets of bushy shrubs.
The herbs which are enabled to withstand the prolonged droughts of these
arid localities are species with tuberous roots, creeping or
spindle-like, and deeply buried in the ground. The _Citrullus vulgaris_
and _C. amarus_ are found in enormous quantities. Dr. Livingstone speaks
of another individual of the gourd tribe, probably a kind of _Cucumis_,
whose fruits colour red when ripe, and which has sometimes a sweet and
sometimes a bitter flavour. In these vast regions, where a desolating
aridity prevails, the rivers and streams dry up for a great portion of
the year, and the soil of their bed, generally black and loamy, is
rapidly covered with a profuse vegetation, composed in great part of
grasses and rush-plants.

The banks of the rivers Mokolo and Zouga, and the shores of Lake Ngami,
are covered with herbs and small thorny stunted bushes, including the
_Acacia detinens_. In the south of Africa the soil is so dry that only
plants of a fleshy consistency can endure the heat; elsewhere, in more
temperate climes, these latter plants are also very abundant, but the
surrounding herbage destroys them. Among those which grow there in great
numbers I may name the Ficoideæ, and particularly the _Mesembryanthemum
inflexum_, which is very widely spread, and whose stems and leaves are
eaten by herbivorous animals. This plant, says Dr. Livingstone, is so
useful that it is cultivated by the Dutch Boers on an extensive scale.
On his northward route towards Linianty, this illustrious traveller fell
in with meadows of such rank fertility that its herbage frequently rose
above his vehicles. The natives, designated Makalatos, show some
agricultural taste and skill, and cultivate durra, maize, two kinds of
beans, arachides, pumpkins, and the like. Everywhere, along the banks of
the Gambye and the Liba, he met with exceptionally fertile land, where
the grasses attained an unusual development. On the Liba bloomed wide
verdurous plains, consisting of plants with dazzling corollas and
gramineæ of tall stature. Owing to the burning heats which blight these
districts, herbaceous plants are developed with extraordinary rapidity.

In the rainy season the Liba meadows are covered, like our own, with an
immense variety of mushrooms, some nutritious, others poisonous. The
former are much relished by the natives. One of the most common, and
one of the finest flavour, is found, says Dr. Livingstone, on all the
ant-hills; it is completely white, very good even when eaten raw, and
about eight inches in diameter. There is another of a brilliant red or
superb blue, but it is poisonous.

The banks of the Quilo, like those of the Quango, are endowed with a
most luxurious vegetation; the same is the case with the banks of the
Zambesi. Everywhere spreads a gigantic and abundant herbage. In the
environs of the small town of Cassanga, the natives cultivate manioc,
potatoes, haricots, tomatoes, &c. There are found also bananas and guava
plants, and probably all the legumes and fruit trees recognized by Dr.
Welwitsch at Benguela, which lies nearly under the same latitude. From
the table-land of Cassanga you may survey nearly the whole of the valley
watered by the Quango. It is a gently undulating plain, covered with
herbs, and sown with great woods. The coffee-tree was formerly
cultivated in the province of Tété, but has been abandoned; cassias,
however, flourish, and indigo. Among the cultivated plants of Tété
Livingstone, moreover, mentions some species which are not yet
botanically distinguished--such as the Loatsa (_Pennisetum typhoideum_),
and several of the bean tribe, one of which grows underground like the
arachides.



CHAPTER V.

VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE PRAIRIES, PAMPAS, AND LLANOS OF THE NEW WORLD.


Of all the provinces, as yet uninhabited or only scantily peopled, which
compose the northern regions of the New World, none offer so vast an
extent of prairies as that which is situated in the vicinity of the
Neosho and the Vert-de-Gris, between the Missouri frontier and the River
Arkansas. Woods of small extent--or, more generally, limited patches of
copse and thicket--are met with at intervals in these plains. The
_Smilax rotundifolia_, a species of sarsaparilla, with round leaves and
sarmentous stems; the _Rhus toxicodendrum_, a shrub with a very
poisonous juice; and the _Asimina triloba_, a plant bearing nutritious
fruit, are, with a few other subfrutescent species, the denizens of
these lonely localities. Annual or perennial plants abound in the
prairies, and attain there a considerable development, especially in the
more humid districts. The plains bordering on the Swan's Marsh, situated
upon the upper course of the River Osage, nourish a great number of
species, as elegant as they are varied. As in our own meadows, the
Gramineæ, the Cyperaceæ (or Sedges), the Leguminosæ, and the
Compositæ--the latter especially--are very extensively diffused. But, in
contrast to the majority of our species, their representatives are in
general of remarkable dimensions, with flowers of extraordinary
splendour, and most of them have been naturalized in our British
gardens.

The American prairies, again, like the meadow-lands of Europe, are
alternated with dry, gravelly spaces, marshes, swampy angles, and wooded
tracts. It is curious to trace a certain likeness between the genera
which inhabit these localities in both continents. Thus, M. Trécul, who
explored, in 1848 and 1849, nearly the whole of the State of Missouri to
the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Louisiana, Texas, and a part of
Northern Mexico, discovered in the vicinity of the Swan's Marsh,
Water-Plantains (_Alisma_), Sagittarias, and Nymphæas, in the inundated
districts; Characeæ--their tubular branches incrusted with carbonate of
lime--bladder-plants, and the beautiful floating Naiadaceæ, in deeper
pools and stagnant waters; and the Lythraceæ (or Loose-Strife tribe) on
the banks of the brooklets. But the commonest aquatic plant in these
morasses, and that which conceals, so to speak, all the other plants
proper to such localities, is the _Nelumbium calophyllum_, with its
rose-coloured blossoms; its seeds and rhizomes are eaten by the natives.

The vast plains of Missouri are sufficiently fertile. Among the plants
most abundant in somewhat damp places we must notice several
_Compositæ_; the _Liatris_, with their violet flowers and long spiky
bunches, the _Calliopsis tinctoria_ of the dyers, the _Gaura_ of
Lindheimer, and the _Tripsacum dactyloides_. Asters, Erigerons,
Gaillardies, Helianthi (sun-flowers), Solidagos, the _Rudbeckia hirta_,
and the _Coreopsis_, are found almost as far south as Texas. By the side
of these _Compositæ_ flourish several _Desmodiums_ and _Cassias_, some
graceful _Baptisias_--with blue flowers and light green foliage, the
_Melanthum Virginicum_, the _Euphorbia marginata_, the _Asclepias
Cornuti_--now naturalised in the neighbourhood of Paris--the _Hibiscus
palustris_ and _H. moscheutos_, gigantic Malvaceæ, whose
splendidly-beautiful flowers are often three or four inches in diameter.
As plants widely spread in the stonier Prairies, we may note the Gauras,
different varieties of _OEnothera_, and especially the _Silphium
laciniatum_ (vulgarly called the Magnetic Plant, or Compass of the
Prairies). Its leaves _are said_ to turn their faces uniformly east and
west, so that their edges are consequently directed due north and south.
The plant is also known as Pilot-weed, Polar-plant, Rosin-weed, and
Turpentine-weed; the latter name derived from the copious resin exuded
by its stems, which grow to a height of three to six feet, as well as by
the leaves, which are deeply pinnatified.

In the small woods which skirt the Prairies is found in abundance,
twining round the bushes, the _Apios tuberosa_, a leguminous plant
formerly recommended to European cultivation on account of the rounded
tubercles which grow upon its subterranean stems. The Arabians collect
them in the spring, and carefully dry them to eat for food. The Apios
belongs to the family of Umbelliferæ, and is consequently allied to
celery, parsnip, and carrot.

In Missouri, and as far as the confines of Mississippi, we also fall in
with very productive sandy plains alternating with wooded uplands. This
country recalls, on the whole, the aspect of that which we have just
described, and the plants which thrive therein are almost the same.

On the hills and woody slopes in the neighbourhood of the Iron Mountain,
we likewise meet with sufficiently verdurous prairies. M. Trécul
collected there numerous Gramineæ, some species of Carex, Plantains,
Euphorbias, Polygalas, and Vervains; many genera, in fact, which in
France, and similar soils elsewhere, have numerous representatives. It
is in the grassy tracts of the wooded districts that the larger species
of _Phlox_ flourish, while the smaller varieties of the same genus
vegetate upon the hills. The low humid meadows enchant us with their
gorgeous scarlet _Actæas_,[111] their yellow Balsams their _Echinacea
purpureas_, and their superb Lilies; those which are dry and rather
stony are covered with the broad golden flowers of the gay _OEnothera
macrocarpa_.[112]

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE AMERICAN PRAIRIES.

1. Liatris squarrosa.      3. Asclepias Cornuti.
2. Calliopsis tinctoria.   4. Tripsacum dactyloides.
               5. Gaura Lindheimeri.]

Among the shrubs which people the marshy tracts of this same region, I
must point out the _Sassafras_, a kind of laurel with deciduous leaves,
yellow flowers, which precede the foliage, and small dark-blue fruit.
It is found from Canada to Florida; a mere bush in the north, but a tree
fifty feet high in the south. The wood is soft, light, of a coarse
fibre, with a pungent aromatic taste, and a strong agreeable odour. The
wood is brought to market in the shape of chips, but for medicinal
purposes the thick spongy bark of the root is prepared, and it is found
extremely valuable as a powerful stimulant, sodorific, and diuretic. The
mucilaginous leaves are employed in thickening soup. An infusion of the
bark or wood makes a pleasant beverage, formerly known as _Saloop_; and
the wood also yields an oil which is used medicinally.

But it is in the state of Texas, and especially near San Antonio de
Bejar, that those immense desert spaces commence which occupy all the
northern region of Mexico. The southern districts of Texas offer in
their prevailing landscapes a mixture of beautiful prairies and shady
woods. Among the plants peculiar to humid and turfy localities, I may
particularize the _Sarracenias_, a group of remarkable exogens, whose
leaves are hollowed out into tubes or pitchers, open at the upper end,
and streaked with bands of different colours; the Eriocaulons, a kind of
rush, carrying their small flowers in spherical capitals on the summits
of their tall branching stems; and the Nelumbios (_Nelumbium
calophyllum_), aquatic plants of unusual beauty, American congeners of
the celebrated Lotus, the "insane root which takes the reason prisoner."
The nuts are wholesome and edible, and the root-stocks are also
occasionally eaten. These plants are likewise found, in analogous
habitats, in Mississippi and Louisiana, accompanied by the light-green
Magnolia, the Dog-berry tree of Florida, several Wax-berries, and the
Sassafras laurel, now acclimatized in Europe, and whose bark is employed
as I have said, medicinally, while its wood and roots are made use of by
turners and toy-manufacturers.

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE IN TEXAS.

1. Nelumbium calophyllum.   3. Eriocaulon flavidulum.
2. Sarracenia purpurea.     4. Laurus sassafras.]

Prairies abound in Texas, wide rolling sweeps of grassy sward, with an
apparently interminable horizon, unbroken by rock, or wood, or
river--leagues upon leagues of rank thick grass where countless herds
are depastured, and where the hunter still finds game worthy of his
deadly rifle. Among those which skirt the Bay of Matagorda, and extend
in the vicinity of Victoria, Gonzalès, and Seguin, M. Trécul discovered
an ample variety of Compositæ; of Gramineæ, more especially those
belonging to the generæ _Poa_, _Spartina_, _Dactyloctenium_; Cyperaceæ,
Euphorbias, Cucumbers, and Gourds. From the Texan Prairies our European
gardeners have of late years received a Graminea of the genus _Panicum_,
the _Black Mosquito Grass_, which by its long creeping rhizomes may be
employed with undoubted success to arrest the inland movement of the
Dunes and shifting sandy shores. The yellow water-lily (_Nuphar lutea_)
spreads its fine leaves on the surface of the Texan streams, in
beautiful companionship with the _Nuphar advena_ and the _Nymphæa
odorata_. In the same localities vegetates a weak variety of our
European _Sagittaria_, and the _Pistia spatulata_ spreads itself upon
the water, like our English Duckweed, both being members of the family
_Pistaceæ_.

As far as New Braunfels, the Prairies are occasionally relieved by
clumps of fine old trees; but below that point the traveller only
encounters, and that at rare intervals, a few scarce coppices and scanty
thickets. Growing more common at San Antonio de Bejar, they abound in
the region of Castroville, and spread over nearly the entire country to
the very borders of Mexico.

These bushes or coppices mainly consist of the _Prosapis glandulosa_,
the _Guaiacum angustifolium_, the _Xanthoxylum inerme_ and a few
Acacias.

The Guaiacum[113] is noticeable for its hard and heavy wood, generally
known as _Lignum Vitæ_, sometimes as _Guaiacum wood_, and occasionally
as _Brazil wood_. It also yields a peculiar resinous product, which is
medicinally employed, in powder, pill, and tincture, for the relief of
chronic rheumatism and chronic skin diseases. It is of a greenish-brown
colour, and though it has scarcely any taste, leaves a hot arid
sensation in the mouth.

The _Xantoxyton_ type, of the order Xanthoxylaceæ, derives its name from
the yellowness of its timber. Its fruits have a pungent aromatic taste,
like pepper. The popular name of "toothache tree" is applied to some of
the American species, from the relief their bark and fruits are supposed
to give in cases of that distressing affliction.

In the neighbourhood of Castroville, Trécul found, profusely scattered
among the thickets, a species of _Ephedra_, closely resembling the
_Ephedra altissima_, whose feeble reed-like branches were literally
covered with small red fruits, producing a novel and attractive effect.
As a plant curious from its mode of vegetation, and which is spread in
Texas as well as in Louisiana, I may mention the _Tillandria usneoides_,
so named after Professor Tillands, of Abo. This is a genus of
_Bromeliaceæ_, growing on the boughs of trees, and notably on those of
the evergreen oak. It hangs down like a tuft of long gray hair, in
somewhat the same fashion as certain lichens (_usnea_) in European
pine-forests, communicating to the trees a strange and positively weird
aspect. The plant is collected, and the outer cellular portion being
removed by soaking in water, the fibrous residuum is then employed to
stuff cushions, mattresses, and pillows; whence it is sometimes called
"Vegetable horse-hair."

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE TEXAN PRAIRIES.

1. Yucca Tréculeana.            4. Echinocactus robustus.
2. Silphium terebinthinaceum.   5. Cereus Peruvianus.
3. Mamillaria rodantha.         6. Opuntia microdasys.]

In the thickets that dot the central Prairies commonly flourish the
_Lantana Camara_, and the curious _Ungnandia speciosa_, a species of
chestnut tree on a very reduced scale.

It was in Texas, and in the rocky, arid, and hilly plains, that the
French botanist Trécul discovered several notable varieties of Yuccas,
to one of which, a new, and certainly the most beautiful species, his
name has very justly been affixed: the _Yucca Tréculeana_. It raises its
tall panicle of gorgeous flowers from the centre of a crown of glossy,
rigid, spear-like leaves, like a victorious trophy. In Eastern Texas we
note the first appearance, in the drier and stonier portions of the
Prairies, of a representation of the family _Cactaceæ_, the _Opuntia
frutescens_, frequently growing side by side with the _Silphium
terebinthinaceum_. The _Opuntia_ is more generally known as the "Indian
Fig" or "Prickly Pear," from the large purple juicy fruits which it
yields. The _Silphium_ belongs to the family of _Compositæ_. But Western
Texas is the true birth-place of these oleaginous plants, some of which,
such as the _Echinocactus robusta_, the _Mamillaria rodantha_, and the
_Opuntia microdasys_ ("small-thorny Opuntia"), are cultivated in our
apartments, where they require but very little attention. M. Trécul has
discovered in this region a new and rare variety of Echinocactus (_E.
Tréculeanus_), some kinds of Cereus, and, especially, the _Cereus
Peruvianus_, a beautiful plant with large showy flowers.

Such are the principal plants which, in North America, characterize the
vegetation of the Prairies and the Savannahs. This rapid and condensed
description will show the reader that the species most extensively
spread belong to the genera in which are grouped the more common
inhabitants of our own Old World meadows and grassy plains.

       *       *       *       *       *

If we now transport ourselves, on the poet's winged Pegasus, that takes
no account of distance or of natural obstacles, to the Equatorial zone
of the New World--into Guatemala, for example--we shall find the
undulating and verdurous prairies giving place to high table-lands
furrowed by deep and romantic ravines. Their botanical interest,
however, is trivial, and their vegetation of a meagre and stunted kind.
But between Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras, lies an extensive
valley, locally named _Llanora_, sown with numerous beautiful varieties
of plants. Among them the _Gramineæ_ family predominates, and, without
attaining the proportions and the quality of the herbs which we shall
meet with in the interior, form breadths of meadow very charming in
their rare fresh greenness.

From the summit of the Cordilleras, in the neighbourhood of Bogota, at
an altitude of about 3200 feet, the eye surveys almost the entire extent
of those vast level plains which stretch from the base of the
mountain-chain to remote Brazil, Guiana, and Venezuela.

The Steppes comprised between Bogota and the river Meta are formed, in
general, of Gramineæ with crawling stems, and with nearly always very
tall culms, especially in the cooler localities. Herbage is so abundant
that the traveller who penetrates into these immense pastures
experiences almost insurmountable difficulties. He himself and his horse
are nearly hidden by the tall grasses, which frequently attain a stature
of five to seven feet. And such is their vigour, that after having been
burnt to the ground by one of the terrible conflagrations so frequent in
these countries, they spring up again with wondrous swiftness; if the
plants had not flowered prior to the passage of the destructive flames,
they do so afterwards, and even when their leaves have been wholly
destroyed. The lofty table-lands of Bogota and Tukerres, in New Grenada,
present a succession of rich pasturages, perfumed by some species of
Labiatæ, and notably by the _Micromeria Browniana_, which thrives among
the Gramineæ, their fodder is highly esteemed.

The barren and sandy plains of Peru, fertilized by the numerous
water-courses which furrow them, are covered with thick bloom and
verdure in the rainy season. With the Gramineæ and Juncaceæ--the grasses
and rushes common in these Steppes--mingle different members of the
Liliaceæ family, and especially several kinds of Lily. The higher region
of the eastern face of the Peruvian Cordillera, situated between 10,000
and 13,000 feet of elevation, forms an immense undulating plateau
watered by the upper course of the Maranon. Everywhere, over a
considerable area, the plains are clothed with a meagre vegetation, or
alternate with wide morasses, lakes, and brooks. Among the plants which
people them is a species of the Gramineæ, _Stipa itchu_; and there are
also several Alpine varieties, Compositæ, Leguminosæ, and one of the
Cyperaceæ family, the _Cyperus articulatus_.

The Llanos of Caraccas, and of the Rio Apure and the Meta, over which
roam immense herds of cattle, are, in the strictest sense of the term,
says Humboldt,[114] "grassy plains." Their prevalent vegetation,
belonging to the two families of Cyperaceæ and Gramineæ, consists of
various species of _Paspalum_, _P. leptostachyum_ and _P. linticulare_;
of _Kyllingia_, of _Panicum_, _Anthephora_, _Aristida_, _Vilfa_, and
_Anthistiria_. Only here and there are found, interspersed among the
Gramineæ, a few herbaceous dicotyledonous plants, consisting of two very
low-growing species of Mimosa (Sensitive Plant)--Mimosa intermedia and
Mimosa dormiens--which are great favourites with the wild horses and
cattle. The natives give to this group of plants, which close their
delicate feathery leaves on being touched, the expressive name of
_Dormideras_--"sleepy plants." Nota tree is visible for miles; but where
solitary individuals occur, they are, in moist places, the Mauritia
Palm; in arid districts, a Protacea--namely, the _Rhopula complicata_;
also the highly useful Palma da Corija, or de Sombrero; and our _Corypha
inermis_, an umbrella palm, whose leaves are used to thatch the roofs of
huts.

The Mauritia palm, Palm Moriche, _Mauritia flexuosa_, Quiteve, or Ita
palm--for by any or all of these names it is known--belongs to the
family of _Lepidocaryeæ_. The trunk grows as high as 26 feet, but it
probably requires from 120 to 150 years to reach this height. It extends
high up on the declivity of the Duida Mountains, and forms in moist
places beautiful groups of a shining emerald verdure, like that of our
European alder groves. The trees preserve the humidity of the ground by
their shade, and hence the Indians say that the Mauritia draws the water
round its roots by a mysterious attraction. From its tops the Indians
frequently suspend their hammocks to escape the attacks of the
mosquitoes.

Sir Walter Raleigh was the first who brought to England this fruit of
the Mauritia palm, which he very justly likened, on account of its
scales, to a fir cone.

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE PLAINS OF THE META.

1. Anthephora elegans.   3. Anthistiria ciliata.
2. Panicum Cajennense.   4. Aristida capillacea.
         5. Cyperus articulatus.]

The plains of the Rio Negro and the Amazons are the home and habitat of
the most remarkable of all aquatic plants, the _Victoria regia_,[115]
truly deserving its _royal_ rank on account of its curious conformation
and splendid beauty. It is said to have been first observed by Häuke,
about 1801, and afterwards to have been noticed by Bonpland, D'Orbigny,
and others; but the first person who accurately described it was
Pöppig, in 1832, who saw it in the river Amazons. Sir Richard
Schomburgk, who discovered it in the rivers of Guiana, was, I believe,
the first to introduce it in England, where a splendid specimen may be
seen at Kew, another at Chatsworth, and a third in the Botanic Garden of
Glasgow. Its thick fleshy root-stocks send up a number of long
cylindrical leaf-stalks, traversed by air canals, and armed with stout
conical prickles. The blade of the leaf is circular, and floats on the
surface of the water; when fully developed, it measures from six to
twelve feet in diameter, and its margin being uniformly turned upwards
to the depth of two or three inches, it assumes the appearance of a
large shallow tray. The lower surface is traversed by a number of very
prominent veins, radiating from the centre to the margin, and connected
with one another by smaller transverse nerves; so that the whole
under-side, which is of a purplish colour, is divided into a network of
irregular quadrangular compartments or open cells, admirably fitting the
leaf for floating on the water. The flowers rise upon prickly stalks.
They are more than a foot in diameter, with the white outer petals
inclined downwards; while the central rose-coloured ones, with the
stamens, remain erect: the whole presenting the fanciful appearance of a
central rose-coloured crown resting on a circular range of snowy and
most gracefully curved petals. The fruit is a sort of globular capsule,
about the size of a child's head, and formidably beset with prickles.
The interior is fleshy, and divided into numerous cells, full of round
farinaceous seeds, which are eaten roasted by the Spaniards. Hence, in
some parts of South America, it is called _Maïs del Agua_, or Water
Maize.

The pools and lagoons of this region nourish numerous other aquatic
plants, among which it will suffice to particularize the _Scyndapsus
fragrans_ and the _Raphia tædigera_.

Turning now to the vast area of the Brazilian empire, we find it divided
into _matos_ (or woods) and _campos_ (or open plains). When the
inhabitants would convert into cultivable land a district occupied by
forest, they set fire to it during the dry season, and soon a vegetation
of frutescent but dwarf species succeeds the primitive vegetation. By
renewing this purifying process a second and a third time, the soil
finally becomes covered with a species of fern closely resembling our
large Pteris, _Pteris caudata_; and if the spot be once more abandoned,
it is speedily taken possession of by a viscous, grayish, and foetid
species of Gramineæ, well known locally by the name of _Capim gordura_,
to botanists by that of _Tristegis glutinosa_. So boundless a voracity
has this plant, that it wholly expels from certain regions another and
less tenacious variety of the Gramineæ, the _Saccharum_, or _Sapa_. The
_Capim gordura_ constitutes in itself almost the entire flora of the
artificial _campos_. It is but an indifferent fodder, and cattle derive
from it little vigour.

[Illustration: AQUATIC PLANTS OF GUIANA.

1. Victoria regia.   2. Raphia tædigera.   3. Scyndapsus fragrans.]

In general, the natural _campos_ bear a certain resemblance to our
meadows; grass, however, is less abundant; they consist, especially in
the colder localities, of Gramineæ which do not, perhaps, exceed our
British species in dimensions, but differ greatly in the size of their
leaves, and often also in their spreading inflorescence. By their side,
as is the case with us, grow other plants of a more graceful floral
character. Among these are Myrtaceæ, Melastomaceæ, with their capsular
fruits, and a species of Compositæ, called _Veronia_.

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE PAMPAS.

Pampas Grass (_Gynerium argenteum_).]

The wayfarer who traverses the sterile campos is astonished to discover,
on the tortuous and stunted trees that grow there at rare intervals,
some flowers of a singular loveliness. Yet who can refuse his admiration
from the gorgeous Vochyaceæ; the Malpighiaceæ, richly and handsomely
flowered; the Leguminosæ, with their long hanging clusters of sparkling
blossoms; the trumpet-shaped flowers of the Bignonias, and the superb
_Oochnus_? Nor will he forget a rare _Salvertia_, fragrant as the lily
of the valley, and with its blossoms disposed in thyrses which outvie in
beauty those of the chestnut.

In the genial smiling country which extends from Monte Video to the
mouth of the Rio Negro, the vegetation is almost wholly confined to
Gramineæ. It is in this region that the feathery Pampas Grass (_Gynerium
argenteum_) flourishes luxuriantly, covering leagues upon leagues with
its silvery panicles and drooping leaves, which, when stirred by a
gentle wind, ripple like the slow-moving, spray-gleaming waters of a
sunny sea. It has become of late years a favourite ornament of our
British gardens, and may justly be taken as a type of tender
loveliness.[116] Beyond the Rio Negro the country puts on a wilder
aspect, and it is with difficulty the most adventurous botanist can
penetrate into its recesses.

Nearly all the southern districts of Patagonia form, as we have already
seen, an immense and almost level plain, whose soil is generally dry,
arid, and impeded with large pebbles; the northern districts, on the
other hand, offer a less monotonous landscape, are broken up with rocks
and ravines, interspersed among tolerably fertile pastures, whose flora
has not yet been fully investigated.



CHAPTER VI.

THE FLORA OF THE AUSTRALIAN PLAINS.


The Deserts of the Australian interior have been laboriously traversed,
not, as we have seen, without much suffering, and even sacrifice, by a
handful of intrepid travellers, who have proposed to themselves simply
the solution of certain geographical problems. It will therefore be
understood that we owe to them only a few incidental notices of their
botanical features. For an accurate examination of these the pioneers of
commerce have neither the means, the opportunities, nor the requisite
scientific knowledge. As far as its flora is concerned, the Australian
interior is wholly "virgin soil," a new botanical world, perhaps,
awaiting the advent of a Columbus. Only the littoral districts have been
satisfactorily explored; and here, in the south, we meet with the names
of Labillardière, Robert Brown, Gaudichaud, D'Urville, Sieber, Lesson,
Cunningham, and other eminent botanists. To these celebrated names we
must also add those of Dr. Mueller, Director of the Botanical Gardens at
Melbourne, Sir William Hooker, and Mr. Bentham. Their united labours
have provided the public with a vast amount of curious and authentic
information, and have established the fact that the botany of New
Holland, like its zoology, has a physiognomy peculiarly its own, and
that many, nay, most of its vegetable species, are not less
characteristic than its strange and astonishing animal types. One is
almost tempted to adopt in sober earnest what Sydney Smith said in
humorous exaggeration, that, "in this remote part of the earth, Nature
(having made horses, oxen, ducks, geese, oaks, elms, and all regular and
useful productions for the rest of the world) seems determined to have a
bit of play, and to amuse herself as she pleases."[117] Undoubtedly she
has indulged in the most wayward and eccentric forms. If there exist any
relations between the vegetation of Australia and that of any other part
of the globe, it is certainly with the districts of Southern Africa
which lie near the Cape of Good Hope that Australia exhibits the
greatest affinity. It would seem as if these two continents in some
remote age had not been separated, as they now are, by "leagues of salt
water," but that their vegetable species had been able to propagate
themselves freely from the one to the other.

According to Richard, the approximative number of species distinguished
by botanists amounts to about five thousand; but so many discoveries
have been made of later years, that we may raise the estimate to seven
thousand. While the Australian plants are distributed among numerous
families, each of the latter comprises but a very limited number of
individuals. The predominant plants belong, in the main, to these
families or orders:--Leguminosæ, Compositæ, Myrtaceæ, Gramineæ,
Cyperaceæ, Filices, Proteaceæ, Epacridæ, Orchidaceæ, in a proportion
which varies, moreover, according to the various districts explored.

The fertility of the soil, and the climatic conditions of the southern
shores of the Australian continent, are highly favourable to the
introduction of new species. Our English settlers have availed
themselves to the utmost of this circumstance, and have cultivated on a
large scale all the most useful fruit trees and vegetables of Europe,
and others imported from tropical climes; so that mingled in the same
prolific gardens may be seen the fig-tree and the banana, the guava, the
orange-tree, the olive, and the apple--cabbages, potatoes, turnips,
peas. Even the vine has been successfully naturalized, and its
manufactured products are not inferior in excellence to the famous
Rhenish wines.

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE IN VICTORIA.

1. Rosea gracilis (_Arundo conspicua_).   3. Hectia Pitcairniæfolia.
2. Astelia Banksii.                            4. Xanthorrhoea arborea.]

In indicating the most curious indigenous plants of New Holland, we
shall more particularly confine ourselves to those of Victoria, one of
the best known districts, and perhaps also one of the most extensive,
most diversified, and most picturesque. The plains are, in general,
sufficiently grassy and fertile, especially in those parts which border
on the brooks and rivers. The plants most extensively distributed belong
to the Gramineæ and Cyperaceæ; we find, among the former, the
_Pennisetum fasciculare_, a great number of Poaceæ, and the _Arundo
conspicua_; in foliage and general appearance the latter presents some
striking analogies with the Pampas Grass; among the Poaceæ predominates
the _Cyperus vaginatus_, a common object on the banks of the river
Murray in those parts which are subject to frequent inundations. A
strong tenacious netting is made from the fibres of its leaves. To these
herbs we have to add some flowering plants, such as the star-like
_Lobelias_; numerous species of mint (as _Mentha Australis_, _M.
satureioides_, _M. grandiflora_, and _M. gracilis_), from which an
essential oil is extracted for use in the manufacture of perfumes; the
_Sida pulchella_ and _Lavatera plebeia_, of which stout fibre or solid
thread is made, the fibres of Australian flax (_Linum marginale_) being
adapted to the same purpose. The _Restias_, a curious rush-like order of
endogens, also inhabit these moist places: as do the Kingias, very
common grasses; the _Astelia Banksii_, a species of Liliaceæ, with
grass-formed leaves and a strong tenacious stem; and the _Xerotes
longifolia_. The Nardoo (_Narsilia macropus_, or, as it is sometimes
called, _N. salvatrix_), whose spores and spore-cases are pounded by the
native Australians and made into bread or porridge, is a kind of
cryptogamous plant, with leaves formed of four folioles, like those of a
truffle. It abounds in the low grounds and inundated districts,
especially on the banks of the Murray. Finally, the Stag-horn
(_Acrostichon grande_), a gigantic mushroom, clings to the branches of
the great trees.

Small bushy clumps are scattered over the plains, and flourish with
peculiar vigour along the water-courses. They consist of various shrubs.
The traveller will not fail to notice a whole series of
Leguminosæ--_Chlorozoma_, _Pultenæa_, _Viminaria_, _Mirbelia_,
_Podolobium_ (all are shrubs of exceeding elegance, and now form the
rare ornaments of our English gardens); of Epacridæ--_Epacris
stiphelia_, _E. leucophogon_, and others, which have also been imported
into our home-parterres; a great number of Euribias, a genus of
subfrutescent Compositæ, of which a few are rendered interesting by
their heathlike foliage; the _Pimelea axiflora_, whose supple and
tenacious bark is fashioned into bands and straps; the _Myrsine
variabilis_, with its woody stems and drupaceous fruit; the _Aralia
crassifolia_, a singular shrub, with long, narrow, and very rigid
leaves; the _Callistemon salignum_ (vulgarly called "stonewood"),
employed for xylographic purposes; the _Casuarina equisetifolia_,[118]
or "Swamp Oak"--also called "Cassowary Tree"--a lofty tree, with very
durable wood, long, slender, drooping, emerald-green branches, and
conical fruit, inclosing small winged nuts; various species of
Melaleuca, yielding the green aromatic oil called cajaputi or cajeput
oil, valuable as a stimulant or antispasmodic; finally, some Cordylines,
or Tis, plants of the natural order Liliaceæ, and nearly allied to the
Dragon's Blood Tree, attaining a height of ten to fifteen feet, with a
berry-like fruit, and lanceolate leaves of a reddish hue, which afford a
nutriment for cattle, thatch for houses, and whose fibres are frequently
made into cloth. The root, when baked, is much used as an article of
food, and the fermented juice yields an intoxicating beverage.

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE ON THE AUSTRALIAN PLAINS.

1. Doryanthes excelsa.
2. Aralia crassifolia.
3. Dryandra repens.
4. Cordyline congesta.]

The dry, rocky, arid, and sandy districts, which may be compared to the
Landes of Brittany, are clothed with a peculiar vegetation. The
strangest plant, which is also the most widely distributed, is
undoubtedly the _Xanthorrhoea arborea_,[119] forming a conspicuous
feature in the dreary landscape, and when stripped of its leaves
resembling a black man holding a spear. The leaves afford good fodder
for cattle, while the natives eat the soft white centre of the top of
the stem. They yield two kinds of fragrant resin--one of a yellow
colour, balsamic and inodorous, called Botany Bay; and the other red,
called Black Boy Gum. The tree--which the settlers have christened
"Black Boy" and "Grass Gum"--has a thick trunk, encrusted in a thick
coating of the persistent basis of old leaves, glued together by the
yellow or red resin with which the plant abounds, and usually burned and
blackened outside by bush-fires. The leaves are long, wiry, and
grass-like, and are borne in a dense tuft at the top of the stem,
hanging gracefully all around it. Their long flower-stalks aspire from
its centre, sometimes growing as high as fifteen or twenty feet, and
carrying aloft a thick cylindrical flower spike.

Among the lowlier plants are found a few Hectias, such as the _Hectia
Pitcairniæfolia_, one of the Bromelias, very curious from its mode of
vegetation; and the _Stipa crinita_, a very common grass. The leaves of
the latter have been manufactured into paper of tolerable consistency.

The sandy and colder tracts are the habitat of the annual or perennial
Compositæ, distinguished by their smooth and shining flowers. On the
other hand, the dry rocky surfaces are besprinkled with inconsiderable
woods, or rather thickets, formed in part of the _Santalum acuminatum_,
whose nutritious fruit are called "peaches" by the colonists; the
_Santalum persicarium_, or sandal wood; several _Nitrarias_,[120] with
edible fruits; a great number of Acacias, notably the _Acacia
verticillata_, _A. sophora_, and _A. doratoxylon_, whose very hard wood
is employed in the fabrication of javelins; a considerable series of
Proteaceæ, particularly the _Banksia Australis_, _B. serrata_, and _B.
integrifolia_, so characteristic in aspect and foliage; and a few
_Eucalypti_,[121] or "Gum Trees," of small stature--among others, the
"Traveller's Tree," or _Eucalyptus oleosa_.[122] Its roots extend
horizontally, and retain a quantity of water sufficient to quench the
wayfarer's thirst in the hour of need. All the Eucalypti are curious
trees, with entire and leathery leaves, affording an unusual amount of
aromatic oil. Many of the species abound in resinous secretions; some
attain a great size, with trunks of from 8 to 16 feet in diameter, and
150 or 160 in length. The _Eucalyptus resinifera_--"Red Gum" or "Iron
Bark Tree"--reaches to an elevation of 150 to 200 feet. When wounded, a
red juice flows from it very freely, hardening into irregular,
inodorous, and transparent masses in the air, and furnishing as much as
sixty gallons from a single tree.

[Illustration: VEGETABLE LIFE ON THE AUSTRALIAN PLAINS.

1. Acacia verticillata.
2. Casuarina equisetifolia, or "Black Boy Tree."
3. Corypha Australis, or "Australian Palm."]

Finally, I may refer to the _Dryandra_, whose foliage is very graceful,
and its conformation very varied. Sometimes it is found as a bush, three
to seven feet high; and sometimes, as in the _Dryandra repens_, creeping
along the ground.

On the more temperate heights the traveller encounters some plants of a
fantastic character: as, for instance, the _Doryanthes excelsa_, with
its upright gigantic leaves, more than 6 feet long, and from 2½ to
3½ inches broad; from their centre rises a strong stalk, 15 or 18
feet high, terminated by a compact and voluminous cluster of great
deep-red flowers. There, too, are found the magnificent arborescent
ferns, _Alsophila Australis_ and _Dicksonia Antarctica_. The trunk of
the former aspires to a stature of 25 to 90 feet; that of the second, to
12 to 28 feet; and in both the stems are terminated by a cluster of
immense flowers, which give to these plants a quite distinctive
character.

Nor must we quit the Australian Flora and its marvels without alluding
to the _Corypha Australis_, which begins to make its appearance at the
mouth of the Snowy River. It is a gigantic palm, growing solitarily, or
in thin groups, in low, cool, and even moist places. Its trunk probably
attains to 140 feet in height; and the top of its stem is crowned by a
gorgeous crest of fan-shaped leaves, which are employed in the
manufacture of straw hats.



CHAPTER VII.

ANIMAL LIFE IN THE PRAIRIES OF THE OLD WORLD:--HERBIVOROUS ANIMALS.


To the prodigal Flora of the Tropics, which we shall soon see displaying
in the virgin forests its exuberant fecundity, corresponds a Fauna no
less rich, and marked by a singular variety.

This Fauna offers, especially in the Old World, an impressive character
of power, strength, superior force--I had almost said, _majesty_. In
truth, if we do calmly compare the mammals and the birds of tropical
America with those which roam the wild plains of Africa, Hindostan, the
Indo-Chinese peninsula, and the great islands of the Indian Ocean, we
cannot but recognize the evident superiority of the latter. The
anthropoid Ape, the enormous Pachyderms, Elephant, Rhinoceros,
Hippopotamus, Giraffe, and, among animals of the same order, the
Antelopes, many of which attain the dimensions of the Horse, belong
exclusively to the Eastern Hemisphere. The genus Camel, represented in
Asia by the Bactrian Camel, in Africa by the Dromedary, is but weakly
typified in South America by the Lama, the Vicuña, and the Alpaca, not
inelegant in form, but of a markedly inferior stature. And what equality
is there between the lordly Tiger of the rank Indian jungles, and the
sleek, stealthy Jaguar of the American wilderness? Or who will venture
to compare the so-called "Lion of America," the Puma or Cougouar, with
the regal quadruped which makes the hot Libyan wastes re-echo with his
terrible roar?

Among the Birds, the Phenicoptera, with its disproportionate legs and
neck, distributed over all the ancient continent below 40° of latitude,
and the Ostrich, properly so called, are much superior in dimensions to
their analogues on the other side of the Atlantic, the American Flamingo
and the Nandou. So do the Eagles and Vultures of Europe, Asia, and
Africa prevail in numbers and force over those of the New World. And the
ancient continent can likewise claim as its own the gigantic Epiornis,
the wonderful "Roc Bird" of the well-known Oriental legend, whose
petrified eggs and some of whose fossil bones have been discovered in
Madagascar. It is true, however, that the greatest of living Raptores,
the Condor, inhabits exclusively the Cordillera of the Andes:--

    "Stands solitary, stands immovable
     Upon some highest cliff, and rolls his eye,
     Clear, constant, unobservant, unabashed,
     In the cold light, above the dews of morn."--(_W. S. Landor._)

But the balance is re-established by the Erpetological and Entomological
Fauna of the New World, which can oppose its huge Boas, its Caïmans and
Pythons, to the Crocodiles and Gavials of Africa and Asia; its Crotali
and Trigonocephali to the Najas of India, the Echidnas of the Cape, and
the Cerastes of Egypt and the Sahara; while the Bull Frog of the United
States and the Pipa of Guiana are only found on the banks of the vast
lonesome swamps of the new continent. As far as the Desert World is
concerned, in both hemispheres the legions are innumerable, and their
energies commensurate to the greatness of the continual work of
destruction and purification which they seem destined to accomplish in
all tropical countries.

It is unnecessary to carry any further the parallel between the two
hemispheres. We shall more clearly detect their analogies and
differences by pursuing the study, already opened up in the Steppes and
Seas of Sand, of the principal species proper to the various forms of
the Desert, the different regions and divisions of the Savage World.

Yet I must confess that the difficulties of the study increase with the
extent of the field we are called upon to explore. The Steppes and
Wildernesses of Sand constitute, both in Africa and Asia, regions which
are clearly defined, and the poverty both of their fauna and their flora
fixes a definite limit to the researches of the naturalist. Such is not
the case in the immense countries which now lie before us. Instead of
sighing, like Alexander, for more worlds to conquer, the student of
science is ever deploring the impossibility of exhausting even a single
division of the grand work before him. "Art is long; life is short." The
most industrious among us can never rise to the full height of his
glorious task; must always remain like a child on the shore of the ocean
of truth, and be content with the few shells his nerveless hand
contrives to gather. In the wide regions we are about to traverse we
feel at every step the colossal character of the enterprise. Every
instant their aspect changes; Nature never repeats herself; their
products vary with the latitude, the climate, and the soil. To pass in
review all the trees and plants and flowers which flourish there, all
the animals and peoples which dwell among them, would be nothing less
than to embrace in a vast encyclopædia the description and history of
two organic kingdoms. But such is not the design of the present volume.
I have not undertaken to give an exact picture of nature, which would
task to the uttermost the powers of men of such diverse genius as
Humboldt, Owen, Lyell, Darwin, Tyndall, Hooker, and Ruskin, but to
sketch the bold outlines and more prominent features of the physiognomy
of the Desert World, and not to reproduce its more minute details.

My embarrassment, then, arises less from the multitude and infinite
variety of the objects we have to examine, than from the difficulty of
harmonizing the study with the divisions of this work. How, in fact, can
I establish a positive distinction between the animals of the Prairies
or the Savannahs and those of the Forests, between those of the latter
and the animals proper to the Mountains? For such a purpose it is
needful that each of these forms of the Desert World should possess its
peculiar fauna; which is true only within very narrow limits. In
reality, most animals inhabit or frequent, according to circumstances,
sometimes one district, sometimes another, without its being possible to
assign with any amount of precision their habitual, or simply their
occasional, abode.

I shall avail myself, therefore, of the liberty allowed to every writer
who does not design a purely didactical work, by not unnecessarily
troubling myself whether the animals whose organization or
characteristics attract our notice, particularly affect a low or
elevated locality, the shady wood or open plain, the pestilential swamp
or the river-watered valley, and by permitting myself, except in the
case of some evident and constant partiality, to place them where the
most eminent observers assure us they are really, if not exclusively,
met with.

On this account, the plains, more or less densely wooded and broken up,
which occupy the greater portion of the African Continent, will readily
furnish us with the opportunity of studying the majority of animals
indigenous to that continent, and, in general, to the entire Tropical
zone of the Old World. In fact, nearly all the genera of Mammals, Birds,
and Reptiles, are there represented by their most characteristic types.
Clothed with a luxuriant vegetation; watered by periodical rains and
numerous streams; intersected by thick masses of forests, groves, and
thickets; relieved from monotonous uniformity by mountain and ravine, by
marshes and lakes of vast extent,--these fields ever exhibit that aspect
of busy life under which we love to represent to ourselves the earth
when she first emerged from the boiling seas of Chaos, when the forces
which had seethed within her bowels for so many thousands of centuries
had been tranquillized by the Divine will, and she was despatched on her
mysterious course to be the theatre of man's glorious destiny.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the daytime silence and solitude prevail over the open plains. It
is the hour when most animals seek, under the foliage of the trees,
among the tall rank grasses, in the bosom of the waters or under the
surface of the earth, a shelter against the swift burning arrows of the
sun, and repose immovable in their different lairs. But when the great
orb of day sinks towards the horizon, all Nature seems to awake. More
imperious needs succeed to those of rest and slumber; hunger and thirst
stimulate the most sluggish into exertion. Then the reptile begins to
stir in the mud where he lay embedded; the herbivora return to their
fresh pastures, and move towards the rivers and ponds in whose waters
they may slake their thirst; the carnaria take the same road; they know
that in the open plain they will find victims for their murderous jaws.
The Desert is astir with strange sounds and mysterious voices; the air
re-echoes the thousand discordant cries which ring from the mountains
and the rocks; black shadows pass, re-pass, and flit to and fro, in
every direction; terror, rage, agony, voracity, all these instincts
obtain expression in the dreadful concert; it is the orgie of the
appetites, the grand "Witches' Sabbath" of Nature, whose furious
animation slackens towards the middle of the night, until, at sunrise,
the lively accents and joyous melodies of the birds, and the peaceful
pastimes of the other animals of the day, succeed to the lamentations
and sinister invocations of the prowlers of the darkness.

[Illustration: HIPPOPOTAMUS AND CROCODILE OF THE RIVER NILE.]

In the foremost rank of the great animals to which the fauna of Asia and
Africa owes its superiority, I have named the huge Pachyderms,[123]
those mighty colossi which may be regarded as the analogues, in the
terrestrial creation, of the Cetacean giants of the marine creation. The
Pachyderms formed in Cuvier's system a sufficiently natural order, which
modern systematists have dismembered, and, as I believe, a little
arbitrarily. This order comprised, besides the elephants, the
hippopotami, the rhinoceroses, and the tapirs, all the Porcidæ family,
and even the Solidungulates, such as the horse and ass. In the present
work I shall adopt Cuvier's division. The elephant is the denizen of the
forests where, in a succeeding chapter, we shall encounter both him and
the rhinoceros. But the hippopotamus belongs incontestably to the fauna
of the plain. His name (from the Greek) signifies "River Horse." And,
indeed, he lives in the rivers, the pools, the deep marshes; his manners
are essentially amphibious. He dives and swims with a surprising ease
and agility, considering the enormous bulk of his body, and the
shortness of his heavy, unwieldy legs. He is able to remain a long time
under water. His colour is a brownish-black, and his proportions, ten to
twelve feet in length, and eight to ten in height. His head is
immensely large; the mouth cavernous in its prodigious width; the teeth
immensely strong, the incisors and canines of the lower jaw being long,
and curved forwards; these canines or tusks sometimes measure more than
two feet in length, and weigh upwards of six pounds each. Those in the
upper jaw are much smaller, and the front teeth are of a moderate size.
The broad thick lips are beset with scattered tufts of short bristles;
the small quick eyes are placed very near the top of the head; the small
ears are slightly pointed, and lined with short thick hair. His food
mainly consists of the coarse herbage that flourishes on the banks of
lakes and rivers; but Milne Edwards speaks of three or four of them
standing knee-deep in the water, forming an irregular line, and pouncing
upon the fish brought within their reach by the rapid currents. At night
time they abandon their watery haunts to prowl among the sugar-cane
plantations, the fields of millet and rice, which they devour with
eagerness. Their march is so impetuous, that they break down every
barrier; nothing can resist them.

The hippopotamus is spread over all eastern and southern Africa; is
found in Nubia, Ethiopia, Abyssinia; at the Cape, the Senegal and the
Congo. Both the settlers and the natives of these countries hunt them
with ardour for the sake of the ivory they yield, nor is their flesh
despised by a keen appetite and vigorous stomach. Sometimes they
excavate, in the animal's ordinary route, a tolerably deep pit, beset
with sharp pointed poles, and concealed by a covering of leafy branches:
sometimes, in the shade of the evening, they lie in ambuscade among the
bushes, and aim at his huge bulk the deadly bullet, as he comes up from
the water, labouring and bellowing. It is necessary to aim well at his
head; for the rest of his body is almost as invulnerable as that of
Achilles.

Here is a lively picture from Sir Samuel Baker's valuable volumes, in
which the hippopotamus is a foremost figure.

"We were towing through high reeds," he says,[124] "the men invisible,
and the rope mowing over the high tops of the grass, when the noise
disturbed a hippopotamus from his slumber, and he was immediately
perceived close to the boat. He was about half-grown, and in an instant
about twenty men jumped into the water in search of him, thinking him a
mere baby; but as he suddenly appeared, and was about three times as
large as they had expected, they were not very eager to close. However
the reis pluckily led the way, and seized him by the hind leg, when the
crowd of men rushed in, and we had a grand tussle. Ropes were thrown
from the vessel, and nooses were quickly slipped over his head; but he
had the best of the struggle, and was dragging the people into the open
river; I was therefore obliged to end the sport by putting a ball
through his head. He was scored all over by the tusks of some other
hippopotamus that had been bullying him."

After conquering your enemy, kill him and eat him: such is the maxim of
savage life. It was carried out by Sir Samuel Baker and his men, much to
the satisfaction of the conquerors. "A new dish!" exclaims our
traveller; "there is no longer mock-turtle soup; _real_ turtle is _mock_
hippopotamus. I tried boiling the fat, flesh, and skin together, the
result being that the skin assumes the appearance of the green fat of
the turtle, but is far superior. A piece of the head thus boiled, and
then soused in vinegar, with chopped onions, cayenne pepper, and salt,
throws brawn completely in the shade."

The same traveller relates that the natives on the shores of the Albert
N'yanza, previous to embarking on a voyage, cast a handful of beads into
the lake, to propitiate the hippopotamus, that their canoe may not be
upset.

The genus _Tapir_ is wanting in Africa; but we find a species, _Tapirus
Indicus_, in India and the Indian Archipelago, where it was first
noticed by Diard and Duvaucel. These naturalists saw an individual of
this species at Barrackpore, near Calcutta, whither he had been imported
from the island of Sumatra. "I was much surprised," says Diard, "that so
large an animal had not hitherto been discovered; but I was much more
so, on seeing in the Asiatic Society's Museum the head of a similar
animal, a native of Malacca, which had been sent to the Society, on the
29th of April 1806, by M. Faghuarie, governor of that province." This
tapir is as common at Malacca as the rhinoceros and elephant. In size he
closely approaches the common ass. He is black all over, except the
ears, which are fringed with white, and on the back, which is of a pale
gray. His habits are identical with those of the American tapirs, to be
described hereafter.

[Illustration: RHINOCEROS.

African Phacocoerus (_Choeripotamus Africanus_).]

       *       *       *       *       *

In the African plains, from Nubia and Senegal to the Cape, we meet with
a Pachyderm intermediate between the hippopotamus and the wild boar:
this is the _Phacocoerus_, which was known to the ancients, and
designated by credulous Ælian the _Sus tetrakeros_, or "Boar with Four
Horns." He has no horns, however, but only, beneath each ear, a horny
protuberance, which greatly disfigures his head, and procures him the
popular appellation of the "Warty Hog"--the "Bush Vark," or "Bush Hog"
of South Africa (_Choeripotamus Africanus_). He has four projecting
tusks, and long sharp tufted ears. His stature, his feet, his tail, the
mane of stiff bristles which garnishes his neck, identify him with the
wild boar; but his body, almost naked on the flanks and hinder part,
likens him to an hippopotamus. He is gregarious, of fierce and brutal
habits, and lives chiefly in the bushes or tall herbage.

[Illustration: THE DAW AND THE QUAGGA.]

The Solidungulæ (or Solid-hoofed), which roam among the wide pasturages
of the Tropical regions of the Ancient World, contrast, by the elegance
of their forms and the beauty of their clothing, with the unwieldy
Pachyderms, of rugged and swarthy hide, placed by Cuvier under the same
classification. The Wild Horse does not exist in these latitudes, though
we may find there the most beautiful species of the genus: the Hémione,
the Onagra, the Zebra, the Daw, and the Quagga. The _Hemionus_
("half-ass"), which we are endeavouring to acclimatize in Europe, and
numerous specimens of which may be seen in the Zoological Gardens of
London and Paris, is of a clear brown colour all over the body, except
the belly and legs, which are white. His mane is short, and his tail
garnished only with a tuft of hairs at the extremity. The species is
Asiatic, and appears to have originated in India, whence it spread
westward into Asia Minor, and northward into the Steppes which stretch
to the base of the Himalayas. The modern names are _Koulem_, _Kiang_,
and _Dziggethai_ (or "Mountain Ass"). He roams in great troops across
the dreary Asiatic deserts, and is fond of bitter and saline herbage,
and brackish water. Now, as of old, he has "the range of the mountains
for his pasture," and the "salt places" for his dwelling. His swiftness
and wariness render his chase an exciting pastime, and in Persia he is
considered the noblest of game.

The _Hemippus_ ("half horse"), a species closely allied to the Hemionus,
is a native of the fertile districts of Syria and Arabia. Another
species, the _Tarpan_, roams the Steppes of Tartary, and is with great
difficulty tamed to the use of man. He is of a reddish colour, but the
mane and tail are black, and along the back runs a black stripe. The
_Onagra_, _Onager_, or Wild Ass of Tartary, is represented in Abyssinia
by a smaller variety, of very graceful form, whose hide exhibits
already, upon the legs, some of those well-defined stripes which so
magnificently adorn the "outer vestment" of the Quagga, the Daw, and,
especially, the Zebra.

All these Solidungulæ are identical in habits and character: social
among themselves, they are fierce and mistrustful towards other animals.
When in peril, they seek safety at first by rapid flight; but if driven
to bay, they assume a courageous bearing, assail their enemies
intrepidly, and frequently compel them to retreat. It is even asserted
that the Quagga (_Asinus Quagga_) will mingle with herds of domestic
animals, and defend them against the attacks of beasts of prey.
According to Dr. Gray, this animal derives his name from his voice,
which resembles the barking of a dog, or a sound like _Couagg_, or
_Quag_. Pennant calls him the _Quacha_. He resembles the horse in his
haughty bearing and rapid movements. His head, neck, mane, and shoulders
are blackish-brown, banded with white; the stomach, hind parts, and
legs are whitish; the dorsal line is black; the ears have two irregular
black bands and a white tip. In the _Daw_, the blackish-brown tint
extends over all the upper parts of the body, as well as the stripes,
which are alternately black and light brown. The Quagga and the Daw
belong to Southern Africa, and especially to Caffraria. The habitat of
the Zebra appears to be more extended in range. He is found even as far
north as Abyssinia. He was known to the Romans under the name of the
_Hippotigres_, and figured in the sanguinary sports of the Amphitheatre.
Assuredly he is the handsomest species of the genus _Equus_ (Horse). He
is as tall as the Hemionus; his legs are shapely, his mien and bearing
full of spirit; he has a well-proportioned head, and a coat of
incomparable richness of design, with the skin lustrous, and large black
stripes symmetrically arranged over the whole body, on a ground of pure
white.

[Illustration: ZEBRAS (_Equus Zebra_).]

       *       *       *       *       *

Africa, as I have said above, is the native country of the large
Ruminants. Not less remarkable than the Camel in the fantastic
originality of his form, which matches the exquisite richness of his
skin, the gigantic _Giraffe_ (_Camelopardalis Giraffa_) is distributed
over nearly the whole continent south of the Sahara. Sometimes he even
ventures into the Desert; but most frequently his long neck and tall
legs are seen in the fertile plains of Negroland, the Soudan, the
Senegal, and Nubia. "His head," says a popular zoologist, "resembles
that of the camel in the absence of a naked muzzle, and in the shape and
organization of the nostrils, which are oblique and narrow apertures,
defended by the hair which grows from their margins, and surrounded by
cutaneous muscular fibres, by which the animal can close them at will.
This is a beautiful provision for the defence of the air passages, and
the irritable membrane lining the olfactory cavities, against the fine
particles of sand which the storms of the Desert raise in almost
suffocating clouds. The large, dark, and lustrous eyes of the giraffe,
which beam with a peculiarly mild but fearless expression, are so placed
as to take in a wider range of the horizon than is subject to the vision
of any other quadruped. While browsing on his favourite acacia, the
giraffe, by means of his laterally-projecting orbits, can direct his
sight so as to anticipate a threatened attack in the rear from the
stealthy lion, or any other foe of the Desert. To an open attack he
sometimes makes a successful defence by striking out his powerful and
well-armed feet; and the king of beasts is said to be frequently
repelled and disabled by the wounds which the giraffe has thus inflicted
with his hoofs." The lion, however, seldom attacks him unless he can
surprise him in a state of repose, when he will leap upon his victim's
back and tear him to pieces.

Le Vaillant has justly observed that if precedency among animals were
determined by their height, the giraffe would hold the first rank. The
most careless observer must be impressed by the enormous length of his
fore-legs, and his long tapering neck, which enables him to browse upon
the fresh foliage and green young shoots of the loftiest trees; nor can
he fail to admire his small and elevated head, his brilliant beaming
eyes, and his mildness of aspect. Unusual as are the animal's
proportions, they are not inharmonious, and his appearance is eminently
picturesque. When full grown, he measures seventeen feet from the top of
the head to the fore-feet. This, however, is a maximum. It should be
added that his fore-legs are not so much longer than the hind, but the
shoulders are extraordinarily high. The animal's colour is a light fawn,
marked with numerous darker spots. His horns consist of two porous bony
substances, about three inches long, which form, as it were, a part of
the skull.

[Illustration: A LION RENDING A GIRAFFE.]

Several species of antelopes and wild oxen traverse in numerous herds
the wide prairies of Africa and Asia. Among the African species, I may
name the _Bubalus_, which lives principally in the north-west, and whose
keen stout horns, disposed like the prongs of a pitchfork, render him
exceedingly formidable; the _Gnu_, or Connochetæ (_Catoblepus Gnu_),
which inhabits the wild karoos and hilly districts of South Africa, in
migratory herds, and is distinguished by the weird ugliness of his head,
with its curved horns, and its beautiful flowing mane, white at the
base, and black at the tips; the _Oreas Lanna_, improperly called the
"Cape Eland" (_Antilope Oreas_), a graceful animal, as large as the
horse, and five feet high at the shoulder, with straight pointed horns,
whose great strength is augmented by a spiral wreath; and the _Oryx_
(_Oryx gazella_), Egyptian Antelope, or Pasom, somewhat superior in size
to a deer, with horns three feet long, black hoofs and horns, a white
head, and neck and upper part of the body of a pale bluish-gray.

Tropical Asia presents but a very small number of Antelopes, properly so
called, of which the _Nylghau_, or White-footed Antelope (_Partux
picta_) is the largest. Its face is long and narrow; its black, round,
and pointed horns, though only about seven inches long, are slightly
curved forwards; the broad ears are fringed with white hairs; along the
top of the deep narrow neck runs a slight mane of black hair, which is
continued to some distance down the back; a long hanging tuft of a
similar colour adorns the breast. This animal is said to have abounded
in the forests between Delhi and Lahore in the days of Aurungzebe, and
formed one of the objects of the chase with that "king of kings" during
his expedition to Cashmere. The Hindoo name, "Nyl-ghau," signifies "blue
ox," which is true of the male, but the female is a pale brown. He is a
courageous animal, very difficult to tame; travellers affirm that when
attacked he throws himself on his knees, and in this position moves
forward, until, suddenly leaping to his feet, he rushes impetuously upon
his enemy, and smites him vigorously with his sharp horns.

I must not omit to particularize, among the great Ruminants of the
Tropical regions of the Old World, the Buffaloes, or Wild Oxen, which
feed in immense troops in the fertile and well-watered prairies. The two
African species or varieties which are best known are, the Buffalo of
Caffraria, and the Short-horned Buffalo. The former is not confined to
the Caffre country, as his name would lead one to suppose; but ranges
as far as Abyssinia. His horns, very wide, and close together at the
base, form, above the eyes, a kind of helmet very useful to the animal
in pushing aside the bushes that impede his progress. His hair is rough
and black over the whole body. The short-horned buffalo has a smooth
brown skin, muzzle nearly black, ears large, horns arched and of
moderate dimensions.

[Illustration: 1. Antelope Gnu. 2. Oreas Lanna (or Eland). 3. Striped or
Banded Gnu.]

These buffaloes, despite of their ferocious aspect and savage habits,
are wholly inoffensive, and in all cases of danger are tempted at first
to take to flight; but should they be pressed too closely, or wounded,
their irascible and vindictive disposition speedily displays itself.
When the negroes hunt the buffalo, says Paul Gervais, they are very
careful to attack isolated individuals only, because, in the herds of
these animals some will always be found disposed to avenge the death of
their companions, and pursue the hunters to the uttermost. In their
excesses of fury they strike the ground with their horns; dash their
bodies against the trees in which their enemies have taken refuge;
sometimes they will spend their rage upon one another, or upon the
bodies of those of their kind which have been brought low.

Asia is the home of the Common Buffalo (_Bos bubalus_), and from thence
he has migrated into several islands of the Indian Archipelago, Eastern
Europe, and even into Italy. In France and Great Britain he has long
been domesticated. But there also exist in several Indian provinces some
savage species of the _Arnee Buffalo_ (_Bos Arni_ of Dr. Shaw), easily
recognized by his horns of prodigious size and length, which frequently
measure six feet in length, and eighteen inches in circumference at the
base.

Travellers have asserted that nearly all the herbivora, and in
particular the more feeble and timorous, evince a marked preference for
open and level places; to such an extent, that the herds of antelopes,
gazelles, and zebras may be seen abandoning their pastures when the
herbage is unusually luxuriant. It is in the thickets, the matted and
almost impenetrable jungles, and among the tall rank grasses, that the
beast of prey glides stealthily and unseen upon his intended victim.
Where the surface of the ground is smooth and bare, the herbivora can
descry an approaching enemy, and take to flight or make ready for
defence. It is not, however, the carnaria that they have most cause to
dread, but man; not less cruel he than the stealthy lion or the prowling
tiger, and far more formidable since European commerce has furnished the
savage with firearms. He quickly learns to make use of these; but prior
to their introduction into wilderness, prairie, and forest, he had
devised against his prey various more or less successful means of
destruction.

In Central Africa, for instance, the Bakouain Negroes, to capture _en
masse_ buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, antelopes, and even rhinoceroses,
which gather in crowds around the grateful waters, construct a colossal
and all-devouring snare, which they call a _Hopo_.

[Illustration: AN AFRICAN HOPO, OR SNARE FOR HERBIVOROUS ANIMALS.]

"This snare," says Dr. Livingstone,[125] "consists of two very stout and
very high fences, approaching each other so as to assume the shape of a
V; at the apex of the angle, instead of completely joining them, they
are prolonged in a straight line, forming an alley about fifty paces in
length, abutting on a ditch which may measure from four to five yards
square, and be from six to eight feet deep. Trunks of trees are arranged
cross-wise on the borders of this trench, chiefly on the side from which
the animals will arrive, and upon the opposite one, by which they will
endeavour to escape. These trees form an advanced border above the
ditch, rendering flight impossible, and the whole is carefully covered
over with reeds, which hide the snare, and make it resemble a trap
placed among the herbage. As the two fences are often a mile in length,
while the base of the triangle which they define is nearly of the same
dimensions, a company who form around the hopo a circle of three to four
miles in circumference, by gradually drawing it closer, are certain to
collect a great quantity of game. The hunters direct by their cries the
animals which they surround, and cause them to reach the summit of the
hopo. Men concealed at this point then fling their javelins into the
midst of the affrighted herd, which, dashing headlong through the
solitary opening it can find, involves itself in the narrow alley
leading to the ditch. The animals fall in pell-mell, until the snare is
filled with a living mass, which enables the others to escape by passing
over the bodies of the victims. The spectacle is horrifying; the
hunters, intoxicated by the pursuit, and no longer controlling
themselves, strike these graceful animals with a delirious joy, while
the poor creatures, crushed to the bottom of the abyss beneath the
weight of the dead and dying, raise from time to time the pile of
carcasses, by struggling, in the midst of their agony, against the
burden which suffocates them."

Of the _corral_ in which the Cingalese entraps the elephant, and of the
ingenious snares laid by the Malay or the Indian for the murderous
tiger, I shall speak hereafter. Between man and the carnivora it was
natural that a deadly war should be incessantly waged; but humanity
would seem to dictate towards the inoffensive herbivora a less
sanguinary hostility.



CHAPTER VIII.

ANIMAL LIFE IN THE PRAIRIES OF THE OLD WORLD, CONTINUED:--THE CARNIVORA.


Next to man, the most dangerous enemies of the peaceful herbivora are
the great Carnivora of the _Felidæ_ genus, in whose first rank
zoologists and poets were formerly wont to place the lion.

The so-called "king of animals," however, has of late years lost much of
his prestige. Observant travellers have watched him with a jealous and
suspicious eye; intrepid hunters have dared to measure themselves
against him, and to beard him in his retreats. Our popular heroes suffer
greatly by this close examination. Achilles to his Myrmidons, I suspect,
was less godlike than he appeared to the warriors of Troy, who saw him
only in the rush and tumult of the battle. Certain it is that the
researches of modern science have stripped the lion of most of the
splendid attributes with which romance had invested him. Here is a
glowing picture:--

                                     "The lion,
   Who long has reign'd the terror of the woods,
   And dared the boldest huntsman to the combat,
   When caught at length within some hidden snare,
   With foaming jaws he bites the toils that hold him,
   And roars, and rolls his fiery eyes in vain,
   While the surrounding swains wound him at pleasure."--(_Nathaniel Rowe._)

But the fact is, that with all his prodigious strength, his terrible
teeth and claws, his imposing physiognomy and attitudes, he is an animal
more prudent than courageous, and very unlike the highly-coloured
portrait which Buffon painted. There have not been wanting
well-accredited authorities to accuse him of cowardice; as our own
countryman Livingstone, and the Frenchman Delegorgue. According to the
latter, he is but a nocturnal robber, whom a ray of light disconcerts,
or the barking of dogs, and the shouts of men, women, and children, or
a blow from a well-applied whip, will frequently put to flight. Even if
provoked, or wounded by man, he will often refuse to fight to the last
extremity; or if he accept the challenge, and succeed in harassing his
antagonist, he contents himself by breaking a limb or two, by marking
his chest with his teeth and nails, after which he leaves him and goes
his way. "I have known," says Delegorgue, "an intrepid hunter who, twice
in seven years, had been treated in this fashion by a wounded lion; the
first encounter cost him two broken limbs; the second, six fractures,
without counting the deep scars left by his claws on several parts of
the body. Another, named Vermaës, in his daring, was held for more than
a minute by a lion, and got quit with four deep marks of his canine
teeth; glorious scars, which he showed to me with an air of lively
satisfaction." Livingstone records a similar adventure which befell
himself with a lion at which he had aimed a couple of shots. The wounded
animal turned upon his aggressor, harried him, severely injured an arm,
and then directed his wrath against one of the doctor's companions, whom
he seized by the shoulder. He intended, in all probability, to
administer a similar correction to this individual, when suddenly the
two bullets he had received produced their effect, and he fell dead.

These facts prove, at least, that if the lion is not brave he is not
malicious, and that the reputation for generosity which he has borne
from remote times was not undeserved. It is only in his old age that the
lion willingly enters upon a regimen of human flesh, from sheer want of
power to obtain any other easily. When a lion is too old, says
Livingstone, to provide himself with game by hunting, he frequently
enters into the very villages and kills the goats; if, then, a woman or
a child go out at night, he makes them equally his prey; and as
thenceforth he has no other means of subsistence, he continues to feed
himself in this manner. Hence has arisen the saying, that if a lion once
tastes human flesh he prefers it to all other kinds. The beasts which
attack man are invariably aged lions. When one of them conquers the fear
inspired by man so far as to approach a village and seize the goats,
the inhabitants invariably say, "His teeth are worn out, and he will
soon kill somebody;" and feeling the necessity of defending themselves,
they hunt him immediately.

It is generally believed, on the authority of Buffon, that the lion
lives in retirement with his mate, that he hunts in solitary dignity,
and will suffer no other carnaria, not even one of his own race, to hunt
in his own domain. This is an error. Lions, on the contrary, often
assemble in a "hunting-party," four or five in number, when they fly at
"high game," such as a buffalo or a giraffe. M. Vardon saw three lions
throw themselves at once on a buffalo which he had just wounded with a
musket-shot. "During the day-time, in winter," says Delegorgue, "you may
frequently see troops of lions, which assemble together for the purpose
of marking off and driving the game towards the ravines, or wooded glens
difficult of access, where some of their companions are posted; these
are strict _battues_, conducted without any noise, the odours of the
lions being sufficient to enforce the retreat of the herbivora which
they pursue." The lion himself may, in his turn, be chased and tracked
with dogs, like a wild boar, a wolf, or a stag; but most frequently the
hunters pursue and shoot him on foot, and this is but a pleasure-jaunt
for a man of sang-froid, if a good shot, and well acquainted with the
animal's habits.

We know that the roar of the lion--that is, of the hungry lion--is
considered the most terrible of cries, which inspires all the animals,
and even man, with unconquerable dread. It appears, however, that
man--to say nothing of his dogs--speedily grows accustomed to it, and
that the lion, in his turn, cannot be frightened by the barking of the
latter. A very curious fact, remarked by Livingstone, is the singular
resemblance of the lion's roar to the cry of the ostrich. "I have
carefully inquired," says the great African traveller, "the opinion of
Europeans who have heard both. I have asked them if they could discover
the least difference between the roar of the one and the cry of the
other. They have all informed me that they could not perceive any, at
whatever distance the animal might be placed. The voice of the lion,
generally, is deeper than the ostrich's; but up to the present time I
have only been able to distinguish it with certainty because it is heard
during the day, and the ostrich's during the night."

Lions were formerly common enough in all Southern Asia, Persia, Asia
Minor, and even Greece. They long ago disappeared from these countries,
and are rarely met with now-a-days in Hindostan. The Indian lion is
smaller than his African congener; his mane is shorter and less
abundant, and several naturalists signalize him as a distinct species,
intermediary between the true African lion and the American puma. There
are three varieties of Asiatic lions: the Bengal, the Persian or
Arabian, and the maneless lion of Goojerat--the latter confined to a
very narrow district. The African "king of beasts" is spread over the
entire continent from the Mediterranean to the Cape of Good Hope; but
the species includes three kinds: the Barbary lion, with a deep
yellowish-brown fur and a full flowing mane; the Senegal, whose fur is
of a brighter yellow, and whose mane thinner; and the Cape, of which
there are two varieties, one brown, the other yellowish; the former
being the fiercer and more powerful animal.

A lion of the largest size measures about eight feet from the nose to
the tail, and the tail itself about four feet. The male has usually a
thick shaggy mane; the head is large, with rounded ears, and the face
covered with short close hair; great strength and muscular force
distinguish his conformation; and the tail terminates in a tuft of hair,
which is not fully developed until he is six or seven years old.

In Africa the lion has for his fellows the Leopard and the Panther. Many
writers at one time confounded these two Felidæ, and even classified
them with the Indian tiger. For the vulgar, every great cat with a
spotted skin _is_ a tiger. But scientific naturalists neither apply this
name to the American jaguar nor to other spotted Felidæ of the Old or
New World; and it is with difficulty they now agree to recognize in the
Leopard and the Panther two ill-defined varieties of the same species.
Assuredly they exhibit very marked differences. The Leopard is nearly as
large as the lion; his limbs are robust, his head is strong. From nose
to tail he measures four feet, his tail is two feet and a half long, and
his body so flexible that he accomplishes the most surprising leaps,
and swims, and climbs trees, or crawls along the ground, serpent-like,
with admirable ease. Compared with the jaguar and panther of
naturalists, he is uniformly of a paler and more yellowish colour, and
rather smaller, while the spots on his skin are rose-formed, or consist
of several dots partially united into a circular figure in some
instances, and in others into a quadrangular, triangular, or other less
determinate forms. The lower part of the neck and inner parts of the
limbs are white; the spots are continued upon the tail, which is long,
and black at the extremity.

[Illustration: THE AFRICAN LEOPARD.]

The Panther is larger than the leopard, measuring about six feet and a
half from nose to tail, which is itself about three feet long. On his
sleek hide the spots are disposed in circles of four or five, with,
usually, a central spot in each circle, in which, as well as in his
deeper colour, he differs from the leopard. Both are handsome, stealthy,
and ferocious animals; supple, agile, and muscular. The leopard (_Felis
leopardus_) is a native of Africa, principally ranging along its
western coast and on the confines of the Sahara. The panther (_Felis
pardus_) is also an African denizen, though likewise found in Arabia,
Persia, and Hindostan. During the day he lurks in the thickets and among
the tall grasses, but when the shades of night descend he issues from
his lair, and haunts the brooks and pools whither the herbivora resort
to quench their thirst. There, upon some rock, he lies in ambuscade,
commanding the track pursued by innocent victims, and darting with
unerring precision upon the first which presents itself.

Neither leopard nor panther often ventures to assail man. When attacked
by him, they seek at first to make their escape, and only turn at bay
when escape is impossible. In Java, and some other of the great Indian
islands, there exists a black panther, which has gained, it is difficult
to say _how_, the reputation of extraordinary ferocity and daring.
Sometimes, in the world of man, great reputations are built upon equally
slight foundations. He owes his fame to the imagination of the natives,
and differs from his congeners in no single respect but the blackish
colour of his skin. A skilful naturalist, who was for some years a
resident in Java, relates that, while botanizing in the fields and
jungles early in the day, he frequently roused the black panthers in
their lairs. At first he was somewhat startled by the apparition of an
animal of such terrible renown, but seeing him turn tail very quickly on
his approach, he soon grew re-assured, and troubled himself no more at
these rencontres than if he had met a dog or a cat.

       *       *       *       *       *

We now come to the most formidable of all the Carnaria: the Tiger,
properly so called, or Royal Tiger, whose portrait Buffon has been
pleased to paint with his boldest brush and most glowing colours,
without any other motive apparently than a love of antithesis, or the
artist's desire to give force and effect to a striking picture. He had
endowed the king of animals with all the regal qualities his imagination
could suggest, and by way of contrast he ascribed to the tiger the
lowest and cruellest instincts. He painted him as the Moloch of the
brute creation; the Domitian, Caligula, or Nero of the jungles. He was
blood-thirsty, treacherous, cowardly, and hideous. His limbs were too
short, his head was too large, he was ill-proportioned; in a word, on
the unfortunate beast he poured out all the vials of his satiric wrath.

With this _pièce de fantaisie_ it would be curious to contrast the
graver and more authentic description of the impartial Daubenton. He
asserted that the tiger was very little known to Europeans, and that in
France there existed but a single specimen, and that a very badly
prepared one, in the "Cabinet du Roi." But we are now better informed,
and the tiger, perhaps, up to a certain point, is rehabilitated. Let us
take him first in his physical aspect. All travellers agree in
describing him as the handsomest of animals. He has not the grave
countenance, the majestic attitudes of the lion; but he has all the
grace, all the suppleness, all the lively and undulatory movements of
the domestic cat. He does not stand so high upon his legs as the lion,
and he lacks that full flowing mane which invests the physiognomy of the
latter with a human and truly noble air; but all the parts of his head
and body, despite of Buffon, are admirably proportioned. Not quite so
tall as the lion, and less robust in appearance, he is endowed with a
surprising vigour. He can carry off, while in full career, and making
the most rapid leaps, the heaviest prey--a kid, for instance, an
antelope of full size, even a bull, it is said, and, necessarily, a man.
Finally, his skin, symmetrically striped, like a zebra's, with wavy
bands of brown and black, on a reddish ground, with the contour of the
face, the chin and belly of the purest white, defies all comparison. The
stripes of his head, legs, and tail are disposed with irreproachable
symmetry in curves of the most graceful character. So much for his
physical character; let us pass to his moral.

His appetites, and consequently his manners and instincts, differ but
little from those of the other Felidæ, and, in particular, of the lion.
While he has a keen love of living flesh and warm blood, he does not
scorn to return, under the pressure of hunger, to a dead prey already
partially devoured. Like all the carnaria, a sagacious instinct prompts
him to kill in provision for coming as well as for present hunger. This
is the reason that Buffon has stigmatized him as "unnecessarily cruel."

"The bound with which he throws himself upon his prey," says an English
naturalist, "is as wonderful in its extent as it is terrible in its
effects." Pennant justly observes that the distance which it clears in
this deadly leap is scarcely credible. Man is a mere puppet in his
gripe; and the Indian buffalo is not only borne down by the ferocious
beast, but carried off by his enormous strength. If he fails in his
spring, it has been said that he will take to flight. This may be true
in certain instances; but, in general, far from slinking away, he
pursues the affrighted prey with a speedy activity which is seldom
exerted in vain. Hence we are led to the observation of Pliny
celebrating his swiftness, for which the Roman zoologist has been
censured, and apparently most unjustly; nor is he the only author among
the ancients who notices his speed. Appian speaks of the swift tiger as
the offspring of the zephyr. Pliny, says Pennant, has been frequently
taken to task by the moderns for calling the tiger "animal tremendæ
velocitatis;" they allow it great agility in its bounds, but deny it
swiftness in pursuit. Two travellers of authority, both eye-witnesses,
confirm what Pliny says: the one, indeed, only mentions in general his
vast fleetness; the other saw a trial between one and a swift horse,
whose rider escaped merely by getting in time amidst a circle of armed
men. The chase of this animal was a favourite diversion with the great
Cam-Hi, the Chinese monarch, in whose company our countryman, Mr. Bell,
that faithful traveller, and the Perè Gerbillon, saw these proofs of the
tiger's speed.

The Latin "tigris" is from a Persian word signifying "swift as an
arrow," which we find incorporated in the name of the river Tigris.

The tiger's habits are essentially nocturnal, and almost aquatic. His
favourite haunts are the banks of rivers and lakes, not only because he
may there pounce upon the herbivora which come to drink, but because he
can there satisfy himself with a banquet of fish. To this he is as
partial as any European epicure, and in angling his skill and dexterity
are not unworthy of an Izaak Walton. He is the "complete angler" of the
carnivorous world! He swims admirably, and in pursuit of his prey never
hesitates at the most tremendous "header," so that the Arnee Buffaloes,
which traverse immense distances by yielding themselves to the swift
river-currents, have more cause to dread his attacks than those of the
crocodiles.

Buffon has calumniated the tiger by accusing him of cowardice, while, as
we have seen, he has not less grossly flattered the lion by representing
him as the perfect type of intrepidity. During the day the tiger, after
having supped freely, sleeps in his den; he avoids man, and when aroused
by the hunters, his first movement is one of flight. But by night or
day, if he be an hungered, no obstacle arrests, no peril daunts him; and
he pounces upon man as he would upon any other prey. He penetrates into
isolated habitations; breaks into the villages, and sometimes even into
the towns; seizes the domestic animals in their very stables; men even
within the shelter of their own houses; and sometimes devours his spoil
upon the spot; sometimes, if he fears pursuit, drags it off to his
secret lair.

At Goa, in a butcher's stall, was slain a tiger which had fallen asleep
there after gorging himself with food; and in the vicinity of that once
famous, but now degraded city, a cross marks the spot where a Portuguese
officer, marching at the head of his men, was seized before their eyes
by a tiger, and carried off before they could make the slightest effort
to save him.

Tigers are found in India, in the Indo-Chinese Peninsula, at Borneo, at
Java, and at Sumatra. Civilization has hunted them out of the Celestial
Empire, but they are met with in Tartary, even in extremely cold
latitudes. The tigers of the North a beneficent Nature has furnished
with much longer hair than their congeners of the Tropical zone, and
they seem to form a distinct variety of the species. Wherever the tiger
exists, war _à l'outrance_ is declared between man and him! It is a
vendetta which has been handed down from the remotest antiquity, and is
as bitter now as in any past generation. Every year hundreds of persons
fall victims to his appetite and his prowess; every year hundreds of
his race are shot down by the relentless sportsman, or ensnared and
killed by the peasants, whose cattle and whose lives he threatens.

By the Malays and the half-savage Indians who dwell among the
Indo-Chinese jungles, he is hunted in the same way that the African
negroes hunt the lion and the leopard. When the presence of one of these
scourges becomes known in a district, they place some dainty bait on the
bank of the river where he drinks and plants himself every night, and
they form an ambush among the thickets, taking care to mark the
direction of the wind. It is not long before the tiger directs his steps
towards the enticing booty, and the hunters' arrows or musket-balls
stretch him dead, in most cases, before he can seize it.

A vast amount of pompous preparation attaches to the tiger-hunt of
India. It is a sumptuous expedition, commanded by some distinguished
chief--an European officer, a native prince, or a stranger of rank--in
which each person has his allotted station and particular duties.
Usually the hunters are mounted on elephants, so that the tiger cannot
reach them on the back of the colossus, without being arrested by the
trunk of the latter or his formidable tusks. Each sportsman provides
himself with three or four rifles, besides revolvers and cutlasses.
Formerly the Hindu rajahs made use in this chase of arrows and lances,
but now they greatly prefer the European weapons. The expedition is
never an _impromptu_ affair. It is always organized against an enemy
whose presence has been discovered in the district, and whose den is
pretty well known. The march commences at sunrise, that the beast may be
surprised while enjoying his siesta, after the fatigues and the plunder
of the night. Suddenly awaking, says Mr. Stocqueler,[126] he bounds out
of the jungle, and is saluted by a discharge which often proves
sufficient; but sometimes the animal is safe and sound, or only wounded;
then he furiously springs upon the first elephant within his reach. If
the hunter has not time to plant a ball in his chest or head, the
position of the _mahout_, or driver, is very critical; for, placed on
the elephant's neck, he has no other defence than the sharp iron-pointed
stick which he uses to guide his colossal steed. Fortunately the hunters
are arrayed in a compact mass, and a few well-directed shots terminate
the struggle.

The most favourable districts for tiger-hunting, continues Mr.
Stocqueler, are those of Goruckpore, on the frontiers of Nepaul. Sir
Roger Martin relates that in this quarter once reigned a tiger of such
ferocity, and so greedy of human blood, that he was the terror of all
the "country-side." Once he broke open, in full day-light, the
cabin-door of a Taroo; but the native dealt him such a lusty blow on the
head with his hatchet that he took to flight, and ever afterwards
preserved the mark of the wound, which caused him to be easily
recognized, and dreaded all the more. Sir Roger resolved to free the
country from this plague; he took the field like a gallant soldier, but
slew eight-and-forty tigers before he fell in with the Balafré of ill
renown, who defended himself gallantly, and proved no easy victim.
Abbye-Singh, rajah of Omorah, one of the oldest hunters of the country,
slew, it is said, to his own hand more than five hundred tigers; a fact
which illustrates their numerousness in the Terac, Nepaul, and
Goruckpore. Despite the activity and address of the hunters, they would
never succeed in purging the country; but civilization and clearances of
the ground are driving the wild beasts inch by inch towards the north,
where the hardy amateurs of "sport" must now go in quest of them.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: TIGER-HUNTING IN THE INDO-CHINESE PENINSULA.]

Among the Felidæ of the Old World peculiar to Tropical Asia, I must cite
the _Reinaoudahan_, distinguished by his woolly and tufted tail, from
whence he has received the name of the "Fox-tailed Tiger," and the
_Guépard_, or "Maned Leopard," "Hunting Leopard," and "Cheetah." I am
inclined to believe that these two varieties really signify one animal;
the _Gueparda jubata_ of naturalists. "Intermediate in size and shape
between the leopard and the hound," says Burnett, "he is slenderer in
his body, more elevated on his legs, and less flattened on the fore part
of his head than the former, while he is deficient in the peculiarly
graceful form, both of head and body, which characterizes the latter.
His tail is entirely that of a rat; and his limbs, although more
elongated than in any other species of that group, seem to be better
fitted for strong muscular exertion than for active and long-continued
speed." His anatomical structure and general habits are those of the
Felidæ, but the fur is crisper. The general ground-colour is a bright
yellowish-brown above, lighter on the sides, and nearly white beneath.
On the back, sides, and limbs he is marked with numerous black spots,
which on the tail are so closely set together that they appear like
rings. The cheetah is easily tamed, and trained to the chase; for which
purpose, like our staghounds, he is bred and employed in Persia and
India.

       *       *       *       *       *

The other families of digitigrade Carnivora, Dogs, Hyænas, Viverras
(_Viverra_, Civet), Mustelidæ (_Mustela_, Weasel), are largely
represented in the prairies and jungles of the tropical regions of the
Old World. Wild dogs, with straight ears, a pendant tail, scanty
bristling hair, thin flanks, wander in numerous troops over the plains
of Southern Africa, living, like the wolf or the hyæna, by hunting the
small quadrupeds and devouring the remains of carcasses abandoned by the
greater Carnivora. The jackals, and even the hyænas, range far beyond
the limits of the Desert. At the Cape exists a larger and more ferocious
species of hyæna than that of the Sahara, from which it differs
externally, its skin being marked with spots instead of stripes.
Moreover, the disproportion in the height of the fore and hind legs is
more marked in this animal than in his North African congener.

At the Cape, also, and in a great part of South Africa, we find another
species, the _Hyæna villosa_, or "Sea-Shore Wolf;" distinguished from
the preceding by having stripes on the legs, while the rest of the body
is of a dark grayish-brown. Allied to the Hyænas is the _Proteles_, or
"Aard-Wolf " (_Proteles Lalandii_), an animal nearly as large as a
jackal, inhabiting the southern parts of the African Continent. He has
the teeth and pointed head of the civits; the striped fur and stiff
bristly hair of the hyænas. The general colour is a yellowish-gray,
radiated with transverse stripes of dusky black; the tail is short and
bushy. The fore-feet are provided with five toes; the hinder ones with
four; all the claws being strong and large. He burrows like a fox, and
prowls abroad at night in search of food, which consists chiefly of
carrion and small vermin. But it is said that he particularly affects
the enormous fatty tail of the African sheep, devouring with avidity the
semi-fluid mass, which requires no mastication.

[Illustration: SPOTTED HYÆNAS (_Hyæna crocuta_).]

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the most curious and most graceful of the South African carnaria
is the _Fennec_, or _Zorda_ (_Megatolis_), a genus of Canidæ, resembling
the European fox in form and stature, but his hair of a light brown
colour; his muzzle is of extreme fineness, and his eye lively and
intelligent; his enormous ears gift him with an extraordinary delicacy
of hearing. Every animal has its particular taste, and that of the
Fennec is for ostrich eggs, which, as he cannot open them with his teeth
on account of their size, he breaks by dashing them against hard angular
stones. He is not only met with at the Cape, but in Dongola, Nubia, and
the Sahara south of Tunis and Constantina.

[Illustration: ZIBETH, AND INDIAN GENET.]

I cannot conclude this chapter without alluding to a few of the
Carnivora with elongated snout and non-retractile claws, which inhabit
the plains of Southern Asia and the great adjacent islands. The first
place I give to the _Cuon Bansu_, or Pariah Dog of India, which seems
allied to both the Wild Dog, the Wolf, and the Jackal. His eyes are
prominent, his skin is of a reddish-yellow, brightest about the head,
spotted with black upon the tail. He is a gregarious animal, hunting in
large troops, and waging war against hares, gazelles, antelopes. He will
even venture to attack the buffaloes. Some varieties of this species
range high up on the mountains.

[Illustration: STRIPED PARODOXURE OF JAVA DEVOURING A CRESTED GOURA.]

From the order of Carnivora I might also select, in the wild plains in
the Old World, more than one curious species for our investigation, if
my space permitted me to pass in review the two families of the
Viverridæ and the Mustelidæ. To the former belong the famous
_Ichneumon_, that assiduous reptile-destroyer which the ancient
Egyptians included in their religious _cultus_; the _Genets_ (_Viverra
genetta_) with their sleek, soft fur, natives of the western parts of
Asia, India, and Java; the _Civets_ (_Viverra civetta_), which furnish
the commerce of Europe and the East with a once popular scent, to which
important medical virtues were attributed; the _Zibeth_ (_Viverra
zibetha_), a maneless civet, peculiar to Asia as the latter is to
Africa, and met with in Sumatra, Borneo, Amboyna, the Celebes, and
Hindostan; and, finally, the _Paradoxures_ (animals with a fantastic or
paradoxical tail), so named by Cuvier because the individual studied by
that great naturalist kept his tail constantly coiled up and inclined on
the same side. All these Carnivora are of small stature; their short
paws are furnished with demi-retractile claws; their body is excessively
elongated, and of a worm-like shape; their tail is long and flexible,
the muzzle tapering, the fur soft, and of a tawny or reddish colour,
with spots or bands of black or brown.

The Mustelidæ are allied to the Viverridæ in their general conformation.
Their skin is equally soft, and capable of furnishing a beautiful fur;
but its colour is generally uniform. The head is more rounded, the
muzzle more obtuse, the tail shorter, than in members of the preceding
family. Finally, a great number are plantigrades. These animals are more
commonly distributed over the cold regions of the Northern hemisphere
than in countries bordering on the Tropics. The genus _Ratel_ (_Ratellus
mellivorus_), however, is represented both in India and South Africa.
The Cape species is celebrated for the havoc it makes among the nests of
the wild bees, of whose honey it is singularly fond, and to whose
discovery it is assisted by the voice and movements of a bird called the
Honey-Guide. It has a rough tongue, short legs, with very long claws, a
blunt, black nose, no external ears, a remarkably tough and loose skin,
with thick hair. Its colours are ashen gray on the upper parts, and
black on the inferior, and its length from the nose to the tip of the
tail is forty inches, the tail measuring twelve. The Indian species,
differing but little from the African, inhabits Bengal.



CHAPTER IX.

ANIMAL LIFE IN THE PRAIRIES OF THE OLD WORLD:--BIRDS AND REPTILES.


The savannahs and marshes of the ancient continent are frequented by
birds of great stature: Cursores, Raptores, and Palmipeds. The colossus
of the feathered world, the _Ostrich_, which has been aptly surnamed
the Camel-Bird (_Struthio camelus_), inhabits the arid plains of the
African interior, and frequently penetrates into the Sahara. The male is
of a glossy black, with white on the wings and tail; the female wears an
uniformly dusky livery. It is the loose flexible plumes of the male
which are so prized for a lady's toilette, and which figure in the crest
of the prince of Wales. The female's feathers are of inferior value, and
improperly designated in commerce, "vulture-feathers."

The Ostrich lives with his fellows in flocks of some number. He feeds
voraciously on grass, grain, young twigs, and will swallow pieces of
wood, leather, metal, or any hard substance. In his apparent want of
taste he is probably guided by instinct, for these objects are probably
useful in promoting the work of digestion. Some travellers have
represented him as a stupid animal; but this is an error, for he
displays both vigilance and shrewdness in avoiding the attacks of his
enemies. The chase of this bird is exceedingly laborious, for though he
does not fly he skims the ground, and his wings impel him forward with a
velocity which distances the swiftest horse. But neither his speed nor
his strength avails against the stratagems of man. The Arab horsemen
surround the flock in a circle, which they gradually contract as they
advance, until the poor birds are confined in a very narrow area, and
dashing madly against one another, fall exhausted with fatigue. They are
then slain by a few blows from a stick.

The female lays from ten to twelve eggs in a hole in the sand; she
broods over them during the night, occasionally leaving them in the
hottest part of the day. In procuring the eggs, which weigh about three
pounds each, and are reputed a great delicacy, the natives are very
careful not to touch any with their hands, as the parent birds would be
sure to discover it on their return, and not only discontinue laying any
more in the same place, but trample to pieces all those which have not
been removed. A long stick is accordingly made use of to push them from
the nest.

Another gigantic bird, whose wings are but partially developed, and
whose legs are long and robust, the _galeated_ or _helmeted Cassowary_
(_Casuarius_), is a native of Java and the adjacent islands of the
Indian Archipelago. His head is surmounted by a sort of osseous crest or
horny helmet. In size he is much inferior to the ostrich, not exceeding
five feet when erect; but he is robustly built, and of exceeding
strength. His plumage is very poorly supplied with feathers, so as to
resemble at a little distance, it is said, a coat of coarse or hanging
hair. He is a swift runner, like the ostrich; is equally voracious, and
not more dainty in his food.

[Illustration: OSTRICHES (_Struthio camelus_).]

At that season of the year when the coming winter in our Northern
hemisphere already "casts its shadows before," legions of migratory
birds swarm towards the tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Storks and
cranes, and aquatic birds, descend upon those vast and genial southern
prairies, where they obtain in abundance the precious food denied them
in less favoured climes.

A beautiful crane, of ashen plumage, with a shapely ebon-black neck,
and her head adorned with two white tufts of plumes, the "Lady of
Numidia," selects for her dwelling-place the eastern and western shores
of the African Continent.

The Stork (_Ciconia_) is a cosmopolitan bird which alternately favours
with his presence the North of Europe and the Torrid Zone, everywhere
discharging with fidelity his useful sanitary mission by destroying
myriads of noxious vermin. To kill them was considered by the ancients a
foul crime, which could only be fitly punished by death, and the
Egyptians included the Stork with the Ibis in their allegorical and
mysterious worship. In his migrations he avoids the two extremes of heat
and cold, never going farther north than Russia, nor, in winter, further
south than the land of the Nile. The White Stork (_Ciconia alba_) is
upwards of three feet six inches long. One species, popularly known as
the _Marabout_, never quits Africa and the Indies. The name is also
applied to the light silken feathers which embellish the wings of the
species--one of the ugliest, let me add, created by Nature, with his
bald head and neck, his huge beak, and absurdly meditative postures.

       *       *       *       *       *

The chief of the birds of the shore and river-bank, the Flamingo
(_Phoenicopterus_), may merit admiration on account of his dazzling
scarlet plumage and handsome bearing. Owing to the great length of his
legs and neck he stands nearly five feet high, and measures six feet
from the point of the beak to the tip of the claws. The small round head
is furnished with a bill nearly seven inches long, which is higher than
it is wide, light and hollow, having a membrane at the base, and
suddenly curving downwards from the middle. The legs and thighs are
singularly delicate and slender. The Flamingoes are timid and suspicious
birds; they keep together when feeding, drawn up in artificial array
like the lines of a battalion of British infantry, with some of their
number planted as sentinels to give notice of the approach of danger.
Their voice has a peculiarly deep trumpet-like sound. At the note of
alarm they all take to flight, swooping through the air in the form of a
triangle.

They are skilful fishers. They wade deep into the water, where their
long necks enable them to seize their prey with ease. Their food
consists of spawn, insects, and molluscous animals. Owing to their
peculiar structure they are both waders and swimmers.

[Illustration: ROSE FLAMINGOES (_Phoenicopterus antiquorum_).]

Several of the African Grallatores wage a murderous war against reptiles
in the marshes and the meads; a war which claims the gratitude of man,
who could never defend himself against their prolific increase and
pertinacious attacks. I have already referred to the Stork; it is
needful I should also mention the Ibis, once an object of worship on the
banks of the Nile; the Jacana, his long claws armed with sharpened nails
that transfix his prey; the formidable-billed Baléniceps, which devours
the young crocodiles; and the famous Serpent-Bird of the Cape, belonging
to the Grallatores by his legs, to the Raptores by the talons and
crooked beak with which he is provided, as well as by the structure of
his internal organs. These birds are the allies and protectors of man,
as Michelet has shown with characteristic eloquence in his rhapsodical
prose poem, "_L'Oiseau_;" yet even these, in their combined efforts,
are insufficient against the prolific races of aquatic and terrestrial
reptiles, some formidable by their size and strength, some by their
subtlety and venom. The narratives of the adventurous men who have not
feared to incur

    "The moving accidents of flood and field,"

in traversing the wild regions of the Ancient World, are full of
striking accounts of encounters with these monsters, and of the miseries
they inflict upon the countries cursed with their presence.

"In Afric's sunny clime," flood, and river, and lake are haunted by the
loathsome and dangerous Crocodile (_Lacerta crocodilus_), one of the
most powerful species of the Saurian race. Though he preys chiefly on
fish, his capacious jaws will devour any animal that comes within their
reach; and when one reflects that he often attains the length of twenty
to thirty feet, that the upper part of his body is clothed with an
almost impenetrable scaly armour, that his long, oar-like tail is of
immense strength, one can readily comprehend the vast amount of
destruction such a monster can effect. Happily his movements on land are
impeded by the unwieldiness of his body, which prevents him from turning
except with great difficulty, and enables his intended victims to effect
their escape. In the water, however, he glides along with great
rapidity.

The female deposits her eggs, which are not much larger than those of a
goose, in the sand or mud near the banks of the rivers or streams which
she frequents. By a beneficent provision of Nature, the young are
largely devoured by birds, ichneumons, and other animals, preventing
their otherwise rapid increase. The colour of a full-grown crocodile is
a blackish-brown above and yellowish-white beneath, the upper parts of
the legs and sides being relieved by shades of deep yellow, and in some
places tinged with green. The mouth is of vast width, and both jaws
bristle with a terrible array of sharp-pointed teeth.

The African species all belong to the same genus, of which the Crocodile
of the Nile is the type.

At the Gaboon, the negroes hunt their enemies either with muskets or a
kind of harpoon. Their vulnerable points are the attachment of the
anterior limbs, and, of course, the eyes. It is here that their
assailants endeavour to mark them. They are killed every day without
their number appearing to be sensibly diminished, and, what is singular
enough, without their seeming to grow mistrustful. During the heat of
the noon, they retire among the reeds and rushes for repose, but never
remain long in any one place. At evening and at morning they sally forth
in quest of prey. They swim without making any noise, scarcely
disturbing the water, which they cleave like dogs; they will also remain
motionless on its surface, glancing around them with cruel, dull,
sinister eyes. The negro does not feel towards them so great an horror
as Europeans experience, who are powerfully affected by their exceeding
hideousness. They eat their flesh, with which their huge bony skeleton
is scantily furnished, and, according to Du Chaillu, can never obtain
enough of the much-prized delicacy.[127]

The Indian Crocodile, the _Gavial_ or _Garial_ (_Crocodilus
Gangeticus_), is of the same size as his African congener, but easily
distinguished by the peculiar conformation of his mouth; the jaws being
remarkably straight, long, and narrow. The sides of the head are
straight and perpendicular, the upper surface quadrilateral; and the
mandible, instead of sloping gradually from the forehead, sinks suddenly
to follow a straight and almost horizontal direction. The teeth are
nearly double in number those of the Nilotic monster, but he is far less
dangerous, and feeds only on fish. There are two species: the Gavial of
the Ganges, found in all the great rivers of Southern Asia; and the
Gavial of Schlegel, belonging exclusively to the island of Borneo.

Serpents of every size, venomous and non-venomous, multiply in the
jungles, marshes, and woods of all tropical countries. Africa and Asia
are abundantly provided with them. In Senegal they are all, or mostly
all, inoffensive, and the objects of devout worship on the part of the
negroes of Dahomey; but naturalists have not yet determined their
respective genera. It is certain, however, that they do not all belong
to the same species. In size, says the French traveller, Dr. Répin, they
vary from three to ten feet. Their head is large, flattened, and
triangular; the neck not quite so large as the remainder of the body; in
these respects resembling the entire host of _Ophidia_. They vary in
colour from a bright yellow to a yellowish-green, according perhaps to
their age. Most of them are marked upon the back, for their whole
length, with two brown lines, while a few are irregularly spotted. The
long and prehensile tail, and the facility with which some of them
climb, would refer them probably to the genus _Leptophis_ of Duméril and
Bibron. At Whydah, these divinities are lodged in a temple shaded by
lofty and beautiful trees. This curious edifice is described as a kind
of rotunda, from thirty to forty feet in diameter, and from twenty-two
to twenty-five feet high. Its walls, constructed of sunburnt clay, are
pierced, like those of the Dahomean houses, by two opposite gates,
affording free ingress and egress to the deities of the place. The roof,
formed of branches curiously interlaced and covered with a layer of
dried grass, is constantly tapestried with a myriad serpents. Some climb
or descend by writhing round the trunks of trees arranged for this
purpose along the walls; others, suspended by the tail, balance
themselves indifferently in the air; others, again, lie coiled up in
spiral folds on the ground or among the grasses of the temple roof. They
never want for nourishment; the devout supply them with constant
renewals of food, and in such abundance, that the priests, who,
moreover, exercise the double profession of sorcerers and doctors, are
in no greater peril of starvation than their gods!

The spotted serpents of which Dr. Répin speaks may possibly be no other
than _Pythons_, those gigantic Ophidians of the tropical regions of the
Old World which are found in Africa, in India, in the Indian
Archipelago, and even in Australia. It should be noted, however, that
their size generally exceeds that of the largest serpents which Dr.
Répin saw at Whydah. Their length is from fifteen to twenty-five
feet--specimens have been met with measuring thirty--and their maximum
diameter ranges from ten to twelve inches. Their back is variegated
with large spots, whose form, colour, and disposition differ according
to their species. The tail is short, and not prehensile. Their favourite
haunt is the low marshy ground, rank with moist herbage, where they prey
upon birds and small animals, swallowing them whole--swallowing them
even alive--after having seized them in the invincible folds of their
long sinuous bodies, and always commencing with their hinder parts. So
greedy a repast must necessarily be followed by a slow and difficult
digestion, and cannot be renewed at any very brief interval. They eat in
effect but once a month, or once in two months. During the lethargic and
semi-somnolent condition which invariably follows their debauch, they
fall easy victims to the attacks of their enemies. The principal African
species of this genus are, the Python of Seba, of Central Africa, and
the Royal Python of Senegambia.

The species peculiar to Asiatic climes is the Python Molure, a native of
the Indian Peninsula, and of the islands of Java and Sumatra. The Python
of the Sunda Islands, called by the natives _Ular-Sawa_, attains the
length of fully thirty feet. It has a large flat head, of a bluish-gray
colour, a thick yellowish muzzle, and cylindrical neck. Its body is
marked with deep-blue spots, with a yellow or tawny border; its yellow
tail with blue rings. Its ordinary habitat is the rivers; it feeds on
rats and birds, but also pursues, when ashore, the largest animals.

We are indebted to Dr. Livingstone for much curious information
respecting the serpents of South Africa, and especially in reference to
the _Striking Echidna_, a singularly formidable viper, which the negroes
designate _Picakolou_. He tells us that he killed one day a reptile of
this species, which was of a deep brown colour, verging on black, and
measured seven feet and a half in length.[128] These reptiles possess so
abundant and deadly a venom, that when one of them is attacked by a band
of dogs, the first dog bitten dies immediately; the second, five minutes
afterwards; the third, at the end of an hour; and the fourth, after a
more or less lengthened agony. A great number of beasts is annually
destroyed by the Picakolous; the fangs of an individual killed at
Kolobeng distilled poison for several hours after its head had been
severed from its body. It is probably this plentiful secretion which the
natives call "the serpent's spittle," and which leads them to suppose
that the Picakolou is endowed with a power of injecting it into its
enemies' eyes when the wind is favourable.

[Illustration:

Python Molure.      Echidna, or _Picakolou_.      Fennec (_Megalotis_).]

Other venomous species exist in this part of Africa, of which several
are vipers, and among others the Puff-Adder (_Vipera inflata_). The
natives have named it _Noga-Poutsane_, or the Goats' Serpent, because it
makes at night a bleating exactly resembling that animal. There were
certainly no goats, says Livingstone, in the place where I happened to
hear it. The natives suppose that by this bleating it hopes to deceive
the traveller, and draw him within its reach. Some species emit, when
they are frightened, a peculiar odour, strong enough to indicate their
presence when they have found their way into the huts. There are also
several varieties of Cobras (the _Naja-Haje_ of Dr. Smith). When they
are attacked, they raise their head a foot from the ground, extend their
neck in a threatening manner, dart their tongue to and fro with extreme
rapidity, while rage glares in their fixed and glassy eyes.

Different serpents of the genus _Dendrophis_, as, for example, the Green
Climber (_Bucephalus viridis_), scale the trees in search of birds and
their eggs, to which they are curiously partial. The Bucephalus is armed
with fangs; nevertheless it is not venomous, and these fangs, which turn
inwards, are only of use in preventing the retrogression of their prey,
only one part of which is enclosed between its jaws.

The Cobra or Naja (_Vipera naja_), the "Hooded Snake" and "Spectacle
Snake" of the English, the "Cobra de Capella" of the Portuguese, must be
classed among those serpents which are the most dangerous through their
violence, and the subtle character of their venom. It is easily
recognized by its faculty of dilating the back and sides of the neck,
under the influence of fear or rage, to which it owes its popular
appellation; the elevated skin of the back of the neck presenting much
the appearance of a hood (_capella_). It is usually three or four feet
in length; of a pale reddish-brown colour above, and bluish or
yellowish-white below; with a characteristic mark on the back of the
neck closely resembling the figure of an old-fashioned pair of
spectacles. It is a sluggish creature, and easily killed, but its poison
is of the most fatal quality, causing death within two hours. It
frequents the purlieus of human residences in India, and occasionally
penetrates into the very houses, attracted apparently by the domestic
poultry, and by the humidity of the wells and drainage. In Ceylon, the
natives, if journeying abroad by night, carry a small stick with a loose
iron ring, whose strange metallic sound, as they strike it on the earth,
frightens the cobra from their path. The poison is harmless if taken
internally. It is secreted in a large gland in the serpent's head, and
flows, when the animal compresses its mouth on any object, through a
cavity of the tooth into the wound.[129]

The Indian species plays a conspicuous part in the displays of the Hindu
jugglers, who exercise a strange power over them by the tones of their
voice and the sounds of various musical instruments, compelling them to
rise partially from the ground and go through a succession of fantastic
movements. Something of this power is also due to the fascination of the
juggler's eye. Serpent-charming is of remote antiquity in Egypt and in
most Oriental nations, where the profession would seem to be hereditary.
Several allusions to it occur in Holy Writ.[130]



CHAPTER X.

ANIMAL LIFE IN THE PRAIRIES OF THE NEW WORLD:--HERBIVORA, INSECTIVORA,
AND CARNIVORA.


We have seen that the order of Pachydermata, which furnished the Ancient
World with the most gigantic species of the terrestrial creation, is
represented in the New World by comparatively insignificant types: the
Tapir and the Peccary. The first, although far inferior in stature to
the elephant, the rhinoceros and the hippopotamus, is, nevertheless, one
of the largest American Herbivora; the bison, llama, and stag alone
exceeding it in size.

[Illustration: AMERICAN TAPIR (_Tapirus Americanus_).]

Two species are distinguished, which both inhabit South America,--the
_American Tapir_ and the _Tapir Pinchaca_. The former is about as large
as a mule or an ass. His skin is black, covered with rough brown hair.
He has a long bowed neck, legs and feet resembling those of the hog, and
a nose prolonged into a kind of trumpet. He feeds on leaves and many
kinds of fruit, and sometimes does much injury in the mandioca fields
of the Indians. His flesh is very good eating, and considered
exceedingly wholesome. It is even reputed to be a remedy for the ague. A
very shy and timid animal, he wanders about principally at night. "When
the Indian discovers a feeding-place," says Mr. Wallace,[131] "he builds
a stage between two trees, about eight feet above the ground, and there
stations himself soon after dusk, armed with a gun, or with his bow and
arrow. Though such a heavy animal, the tapir steps as lightly as a cat,
and can only be heard approaching by the gentle rustling of the bushes;
the slightest sound or smell will alarm him, and the Indian lies still
as death for hours, till the animal approaches sufficiently near to be
shot, or until, scenting his enemy, he makes off in another direction."
When compelled to stand at bay, however, he defends himself with
extraordinary vigour. D'Azara assures us that if the jaguar flings
himself upon the tapir, the latter will drag him onward and onward
through the densest bushes, until, torn cruelly by the thorns and
brambles, he is constrained to let his would-be victim escape.

The _Tapir Pinchaca_ appears to be confined to the region of the
Cordilleran table-lands. The name "Pinchaca," bestowed on the species by
M. Roulin, is that of a fabulous animal mentioned in the traditions of
New Grenada. It is distinguished from the former species by the absence
of those lateral folds on the snout and occipital ridge to be remarked
in the American Tapir, by its long thick hair--which, however, does not
form a mane on the neck--and by a white mark at the extremity of the
lower jaw.

The _Peccaries_ are the wild boars of Tropical America. They are smaller
than those of the Old World; have fewer teeth, and their tail is
rudimentary. They live in numerous herds, and not only defend themselves
energetically against aggressors, but when the latter have grown
fatigued, assume the offensive, and pursue them with incredible fury.
Hunting them, therefore, is for man, no less than for the jaguar, a
dangerous adventure. When one of them has been seized by the latter, or
slain by the former, the herd combine in pursuit of the murderer, and if
he does not succeed in escaping them by a rapid retreat, or by opposing
some insurmountable obstacle to their headlong career, he is infallibly
torn to pieces.

The genus _Horse_, or, to adopt the new nomenclature, the family of
_Equidæ_, are altogether wanting in the American Fauna; that is, in the
native indigenous Fauna of the New World. Previous to the era of Spanish
Conquest, America did not possess a single species analagous to the
horse, the onagra, the hemionus, the zebra, or the quagga; and the
reader of the animated pages of Prescott or Arthur Helps will remember
with what terror the Peruvians as well as the Mexicans regarded the
mounted cavaliers of Pizarro and Cortez. The horse, however, when
introduced by Europeans, multiplied rapidly in the Savannahs, where he
soon became wild, and breeding with the ass, produced the mule, which,
in the Spanish-American States, as in the mother-country, is now the
most useful auxiliary of man. The European ox is likewise acclimatized
over the entire extent of the new continent; and immense herds of the
latter species, together with troops of horses and mules, people the
Llanos and Pampas of South America, where the first conquerors had only
met with herds of stags (_Cervus Mexicanus_), llamas, and cobiais.

[Illustration: HUNTER PURSUED BY PECCARIES.]

The _Llama_, or _Guanaco_ (_Auchenia llama_), and his congeners, the
Vicuna and the Alpaca (_Auchenia_), are now only found among the
recesses of the Andes, their native country, to which they have
retreated before the restless advance of man. In describing them I shall
freely avail myself of Dr. Von Tschudi's interesting notices.[132]

The Llama measures from the sole of the hoof to the top of the head,
four feet six to eight inches; from the sole of the hoof to the
shoulders, from two feet eleven inches to three feet. The female is
usually smaller and less strong than the male, but her wool is finer and
better. A great variety of colour prevails; the more general is brown,
with shades of yellow or black; frequently speckled, but very rarely
quite white or black. The speckled brown llama is, in some districts,
called the moromoro.

The burden carried by this useful animal, the camel of the New World,
should not exceed from one hundred to one hundred and twenty-five
pounds. If the load be too heavy, he lies down, and no force or
persuasion will induce him to resume his journey until the excess be
removed. In the silver mines his utility is very great, as he frequently
carries the metal from the mines in places where the declivities are so
steep that neither asses nor mules can keep their footing. His
abstemiousness is remarkable, and he will not feed during the night.

"A flock of llamas journeying over the table-lands," says Dr. Von
Tschudi, "is a beautiful sight. They proceed at a slow and measured
pace, gazing eagerly around on every side. When any strange object
scares them, the flock separates, and disperses in various directions,
and the arrieros have no little difficulty in re-assembling them. The
Indians are very fond of these animals. They adorn them by tying bows of
ribbons to their ears, and hanging bells round their necks; and before
loading, they always fondle and caress them affectionately. If, during a
journey, one of the llamas is fatigued and lies down, the arriero kneels
beside the animal, and addresses to it the most coaxing and endearing
expressions. But notwithstanding all the care and attention bestowed on
them, many llamas perish on every journey to the coast, as they are not
able to bear the warm climate."

When resting they make a peculiar humming noise, which, if it proceed
from a numerous flock and is heard at some distance, resembles a concert
of Æolian harps.

The flesh of the llama is spongy, and not agreeable in flavour: Its wool
is used in manufacturing coarse cloths.

The Alpaca (_Auchenia_), or Paco, is smaller than the llama. It measures
only three feet three inches from the lower part of the hoof to the top
of the head, and to the shoulders two feet and a half. In form it
resembles the sheep, but has a longer neck and a more graceful head. Its
fleece is very long, in some parts four or five inches, and exquisitely
soft. Its colour is usually either white or black, but in some few
instances is speckled. Of its wool the Indians weave their blankets. It
is also exported to Europe, and especially to England, in large
quantities, though since the alpaca was naturalized in Australia,
through the patriotic exertions of Mr. Ledger, England has begun to
obtain a supply from her great and thriving colony.[133]

The alpacas are kept in large flocks, which graze, throughout the year,
on the green and level heights, and are driven to the huts only at
shearing-time. Their shyness is very great, and at the approach of a
stranger they take to rapid flight. Their obstinacy is remarkable. If
one of these animals should be separated from the flock he will throw
himself on the ground, and neither force nor persuasion will induce him
to rise; he will frequently suffer the severest punishment rather than
go the way his driver wishes. Few animals seem to stand in such urgent
need of the companionship of their species, and it is only when brought
to the Indian huts very young that they can be separated from their
flocks.

The largest animal of this tribe is the Huanacu or Guanaco. He measures
five feet from the bottom of the hoof to the top of the head, and three
feet three inches to the shoulders. So nearly does he resemble the llama
in form that, until very recently, zoologists supposed the latter to be
an improved species of the huanacu, and that the huanacu was neither
more nor less than a wild llama. But there are specific differences
between them. The huanacu is of a uniform reddish-brown colour on the
neck, back, and thighs. The under part of the body, the middle line of
the breast, and the inner side of the limbs are of a dingy white. The
wool is shorter and coarser than that of the llama, and of nearly
uniform length on all parts of the body. The huanacus assemble in small
herds of five or seven, and if taken very young may be tamed, but can
with difficulty be trained as beasts of burden.

The Vicuña is a more beautiful animal than either of the preceding. His
size is a medium between that of the llama and alpaca. He measures four
feet one inch to the top of the head, and two feet six inches to the top
of the shoulders. He is distinguished by his longer and shapelier neck,
by the superior fineness of his short curly wool. The crown of the head,
the upper part of the neck, the back, and thighs are of a peculiar
reddish-yellow hue, which the natives call _color de vicuña_. The lower
part of the neck and the inner parts of the limbs are of a bright
ochreous colour, and the breast and lower part of the body white.

During the wet season the vicuña browses on the scanty vegetation of the
Cordilleran ridges. He never ventures up to the bare rocky summits, for
his hoofs, being accustomed only to the yielding sward, are very soft
and tender. He lives in herds, consisting of from six to fifteen
females, and one male, who is the protector and leader of the herd, and
who, while the females graze, stands a few paces apart, carefully
watching over their safety. At the approach of danger he gives a signal,
consisting of a kind of whistling sound and a quick movement of the
foot. Immediately the herd draws close together, each animal stretching
out his head in the direction of the impending alarm. Then they take to
flight; first moving leisurely and cautiously, but quickening their pace
to the utmost degree of speed; whilst the male vicuña, who covers the
retreat, occasionally halts to observe the motions of the enemy. The
females reward his devotion by the warmest affection and fidelity, and
will suffer themselves to be killed or captured rather than desert him.

The mode in which the Indians hunt the vicuña is sufficiently curious.
In the _Chacu_, as it is termed, the whole company, seventy or eighty in
number, proceed to the Attos--the most secluded districts of the
Peruvian mountains--which are the animal's favourite haunts, with an
abundant supply of rope and cord, and numerous stakes. Selecting a
spacious open area, they drive the stakes into the ground in a circle,
at intervals of from twelve to fifteen feet apart, and connect them
together by ropes fastened at the height of two or two and a half feet
from the ground. The circular space within this enclosure measures about
half a league in circumference; an opening of about two hundred paces in
width is left for entrance. On the ropes which are carried round the
stakes, the Indian women hang pieces of coloured rag that flutter gaily
in the wind.

The chacu being thus made ready, the Indians, who are mounted on
horseback, range over the country within a circuit of several miles,
driving before them all the herds of vicuñas they encounter, and forcing
them into the chacu. When a sufficient number is collected, they close
the entrance. The timid animals do not attempt to leap over the ropes,
being affrighted by the fluttering rags, and when thus secured, the
Indians easily kill them with their _bolas_.

These bolas consist of three balls, composed either of lead or stone;
two of them heavier than the third. They are fastened to long elastic
strings, made of twisted sinews of the vicuña, and the opposite ends of
the strings are all tied together. The Indian holds the lightest of the
three balls in his hand, and swings the two others in a wide circle
above his head; then, taking his aim at the distance of about fifteen
or twenty paces, he lets go the hand-ball, whereupon all three whirl in
a circle, and cling round the object aimed at. The aim is usually
directed at the animal's hind legs, and the cords twisting round them,
he is unable to move. Great skill and long practice are required to
throw the bolas dexterously; a novice in the art incurs the risk of
dangerously hurting either himself or his horse, by not giving the balls
the proper swing, or by letting go the hand-ball too soon.

[Illustration: 1. Guanaco. 2. Llama. 3. Vicuña.]

The vicuñas, after being secured by the bolas, are killed; their skins
belong to the Church, and their flesh, which is tenderer and better
flavoured than that of the llama, is distributed in equal portions among
the hunters.

Under the dynasty of the Incas, the Peruvians rendered almost divine
worship to the llama and his congeners, adorning the temples with large
figures of these animals fashioned in gold and silver.[134]

If the natives of the South American continent possess neither the Ox
nor the Sheep, they have at least a precious resource in the Bison, and
the Musk Ox, or Ovibos. Of the latter I shall speak when my survey
brings me to the colder regions of North America.

The Bison is wholly confined to the great prairies of this continent,
which he traverses from north to south, and reciprocally, in his
periodical migrations. According to some naturalists, he is a variety of
the Aurochs, the fierce wild bull that formerly tenanted the forests of
Gaul, Germany, and Sarmatia, and is still found in the densely-wooded
districts of Moldavia, Wallachia, Lithuania, and Caucasia. Herds of
Aurochs (_Bos Bison_), under the special protection of the Russian
Emperor, and believed to number fully eight hundred animals, still roam
in the depths of the great Lithuanian forest of Bialowieza. The American
genus commonly called Buffalo, but not to be confounded with the
buffaloes of the Old World, occurs as far north as the Great Martin
Lake, in latitude 63°, and congregates in countless thousands on the
wide undulating prairies between the Mississippi and the Rocky
Mountains. Their flesh is supposed to supply with provision some 300,000
Indians, who pursue them on horseback, and kill them with bow and arrow,
spear or rifle. The chase is exciting, and has proved a great attraction
to the more adventurous spirits of the New World. It is exciting because
it is perilous, for the hunted animal will often turn upon his
adversary, and in speed he can outstrip the swiftest horse. He finds a
formidable enemy in the white wolf. Hunting in packs of one or two
hundred, the latter fling themselves upon two or three solitary bisons,
and, surrounding them, worry the huge brutes to death. Never have they
courage enough, however, to attack a herd, though the latter, when they
catch sight of wolves, manifest the greatest alarm, form into battle
array, and are only prevented by excess of terror from taking to flight.
This panic-stricken feeling the Indian often turns to his advantage. He
clothes himself in the skin of a white wolf, and with bow and arrows in
his hands, boldly faces a herd, crawling towards them on his hands and
knees; the affrighted buffaloes press closely together to receive the
supposed wolf, who, on arriving at a convenient proximity, suddenly
springs to his feet, and utters an unearthly yell. They fall into a
frenzy of terror which enables him to select several victims.

The Indians also capture great numbers by setting fire to the grass of
the prairies; the flames compel them to retire to the centre, where they
are easily slain. Or they endeavour to throw them into a panic of alarm,
in which case they seem possessed with a sudden madness, and, if driven
towards a precipice, will dash themselves headlong over it, falling
crushed and bleeding into the chasm beneath.

The American bison is similar to the European, but his tail and limbs
are shorter; the horns are shorter and more blunt; the tail has fewer
vertebræ; and the mane is fuller and shaggier. His flesh is excellent
eating, having a flavour like that of venison. The tallow forms an
important article of trade, one bull sometimes yielding 150 pounds. The
skins are much used by the Indians for blankets, and when tanned they
employ them as coverings for their beds and wigwams. Spread upon frames
of wicker-work, they make admirable canoes. The long hair or fleece, of
which a male bison yields six to eight pounds, is spun and woven into
cloth.

The favourite nourishment of the bison, says Humboldt, is the _Tripsacum
dactyloides_, called "Buffalo-Grass" in North Carolina, and a species of
trefoil, resembling _Trifolium repens_, which Burton has named
_Trifolium bisonicum_. It is remarkable, he continues, that the Buffalo,
or Bison of the North, has exercised an influence upon geographical
discovery in the mountainous regions where no road is laid down.
Assembled in herds of several thousands, and seeking a milder climate,
they migrate at the approach of winter into the countries situated south
of Arkansas. Their massive form and size render it difficult for them to
cross the mountains; and, consequently, wherever the traveller finds a
track beaten out by numerous hoofs--a "buffalo-path," in fact--he may
confidently adopt it as the most convenient route for himself and his
steed. In this manner have been discovered the best passes in the
Cumberland Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, from the sources of the
Yellow-Stone to the River La Plata; and, finally, from the southern
branch of the River Columbia to the Rio Colorado of California.

The animals which we most frequently meet with in the Steppes of South
America are the small spotted Stag (_Cervus Mexicanus_); the mailed
Armadillos; some species of Tatous, which glide like rats into the
burrows of the hares; troops of indolent Cobiais; of Civets agreeably
striped, but infecting the air with their emanations; and the great
maneless Lion, the Jaguar or American Tiger, whose strength is
sufficient to slay the young bulls and carry them off to the summits of
the hills.

[Illustration: 1. Agouti. 2. Capybara.]

The _Cervus Mexicanus_ wanders in numerous troops in the grassy Llanos
of the Caraccas. He is only spotted while young; and varieties
completely white have been discovered. On the slopes of the Andes he is
never found at a greater elevation than 1600 to 1900 feet. At 3000 feet
he is replaced by a much larger variety, slightly differing from the
European stag.

The Rodents of the genera Capybara, Agouti, and Paca, are widely
diffused over the plains of Tropical America. Of the three, the Capybara
(_Hydrochærus capybara_) is the largest. He attains the size of a sheep,
has a voluminous head, small round ears, eyes large and black, a thick
divided nose flanked by formidable whiskers, a short neck, a thick body
covered with short, coarse, russet hair, and short legs; altogether,
_not_ a "thing of beauty." Like the peccary, he is tailless, and in a
manner web-footed, being thus adapted for a semi-aquatic life.

These great Rodents, says the illustrious author of "The Origin of
Species," in one of his earlier works,[135] are generally called
"_Carpinchos_;" they occasionally frequent the islands in the mouth of
the Plata, where the water is quite salt, but are more abundant on the
borders of fresh-water lakes and rivers. In the day-time they either lie
among the aquatic plants, or openly feed on the turf plain. When viewed
at a distance, from their manner of walking and colour, they resemble
pigs; but when seated on their haunches, and attentively watching any
object with one eye, they re-assume the appearance of their congeners,
the Caries. Both the front and side view of their head wears quite a
ludicrous aspect, from the great depth of their jaw.

The Capybara leads no joyous life apparently, for in the water he is
perseveringly pursued by the crocodile, and in the plain by the jaguar.
He runs so awkwardly as to be easily caught by hand, and the South
Americans profess to relish his flesh.

The Paca (_Coelogenys_) differs from the Capybara in the complex
structure of his molar teeth. He inhabits the woody regions of South
America, where he is generally found in the vicinity of water,
concealing himself in burrows so near the surface, that the pedestrian's
foot often intrudes within them. His form is thick and clumsy, spotted
with white on the sides, and intermediate in size and appearance between
a hog and a hare.[136] He is about a foot in height and two feet in
length, with hind limbs much longer than the fore, but considerably
bent. The claws are thick, strong, and conical; the eyes large,
prominent, and of a brownish hue; the ears nearly naked, and whiskers
rigid. The paca is heavy and corpulent, but swims and dives with
remarkable agility. As he feeds only on fruits and tender plants, his
flesh is exceedingly savoury, and a staple dish in many parts of
America. His burrow is provided with three apertures, and his capture is
managed by closing up two of these, and digging up the third.

The Agouti (_Dasyprocta Agouti_) is another South American Rodent, about
one-third the size of the Paca; he swims, but does not dive. He has
sometimes been named "the rabbit of the South American continent," but
differs from it in many essential points, and really belongs to the
_Cavidæ_, or guinea-pig tribe. He possesses the voracious appetite of
the hog, and devours indiscriminately everything that comes in his way.
He conveys his food to his mouth with his fore-paws, like a squirrel,
and as he has long hind legs, runs, or rather leaps, with considerable
swiftness. He is hunted very perseveringly on account of the devastation
he causes among the sugar-canes. There is a larger species called the
_Mara_, or Pampas Hare (_Dasyprocta Patachonica_), which will wander for
miles away from its home.

Among the most interesting Rodents of the New World must be classed the
Vizcacha and the Chinchilla, whose furs are so highly valued. The
Vizcacha, or Bizcacha (_Calomys bizcacha_), somewhat resembles a rabbit,
but his teeth are larger, and he has a long tail. He lives, it is said,
on roots, and never wanders far from his burrow. His flesh, when cooked,
is very white and savoury. The Chinchilla (_C. lanigera_) inhabits the
cold mountain-valleys, where his close, fine gray fur is an invaluable
protection. He is a pretty animal, much like the rabbit, but with a
squirrel's tail; of a mild and sociable disposition; and living with his
kind on the most amicable terms.

Nor must the Beaver be forgotten, the most industrial animal of the
Rodentia, which has wholly disappeared from Europe, and is yearly
growing scarcer in America.

The Beaver (_Castor fiber_) is specially recognizable by his broad
horizontally-flattened tail, which is of a nearly oval form, but
slightly convex on its upper surface, and covered with scales. His hind
feet are webbed, and together with the tail, which acts as a rudder,
propel him through the water with ease and swiftness. His length,
exclusive of his tail, which measures one foot, is about three feet;
colour, a deep chestnut; hair, very fine, glossy, and smooth. The
incisor teeth are large, and so hard, that the North American Indians
used them in fabricating their horn-tipped spears and cutting bone,
until iron tools were introduced from Europe.

The sagacity with which he constructs his habitation has long been a
theme of eulogy, and has furnished moralists with many an apt image and
pregnant illustration. Water is the necessity of his life. It is
indispensably necessary that the stream near which the animal lives
should never run dry; and to prevent so dire a misfortune, he is gifted
with an instinct which teaches him to keep the water at or about the
same mark, by building a dam across the channel.

In order to comprehend the art with which this dam is constructed, we
must watch the beaver at his patient toil.[137]

When the animal has fixed upon a tree which he believes suitable for his
purpose, he sits upright, and with his chisel-like teeth cuts a bold
groove completely round the trunk. He then widens the groove in exact
proportion to its depth, so that when the tree is nearly cut through, it
somewhat resembles the "contracted portion of an hour-glass." When this
stage has been reached, he looks anxiously at the tree, and views it on
every side, as if to measure the direction in which it should fall.
Having settled this question, he goes to the opposite side, and with two
or three powerful bites cuts away the wood, so that the overbalanced
tree comes to the ground.

The beaver next proceeds to cut it up into lengths of about a yard or
so, employing a similar method of severing the wood. The next part of
the task is to make these rounded and pointed logs into a dam. For this
purpose the logs are laid horizontally, and covered with stones and
earth until they can resist the force of the water. Vast numbers are
thus laid; and as fast as the water rises, fresh materials are added,
being obtained mostly from the trunks and branches of trees which have
been stripped of their bark by the beavers.

In those places where the stream runs slowly the dam is carried straight
across the river; but where the current is strong, a convex shape is
given to it, so as to resist the force of the rushing water. The dam is
frequently of great size, measuring two or three hundred yards in
length, and ten or twelve feet in thickness. In many localities the
streams have been diverted by these erections into entirely different
channels.

It is in this manner that the beavers keep the water to the required
level; we must next see how they make use of it. They build their houses
close to the water, and communicating with it by means of subterranean
passages, one entrance of which passes into the house, or "lodge," as it
is technically named, and the other into the water, so far below the
surface that it cannot be closed by ice. It is, therefore, always
possible for the beaver to gain access to the provision stores, and to
return to its house, without being perceived from the land.

"The lodges," says Mr. Wood, "are nearly circular in form, and much
resemble the well-known snow-houses of the Esquimaux, being domed, and
about half as high as they are wide--the average height being three
feet, and the diameter six or seven feet. These are the interior
dominions, the exterior measurement being much greater, on account of
the great thickness of the walls, which are continually strengthened
with mud and branches, so that during the severe frosts they are nearly
as hard as solid stone. Each lodge will accommodate several inhabitants,
whose beds are arranged round the walls."

There is no animal, however, whose sagacity can foil human ingenuity.
The trappers, who hunt the beaver for the sake of his fur, and the
peculiar odoriferous secretion called _castor_, are more than a match
for all his artifices. Not even in winter-time is he safe from their
pursuit. Striking the ice smartly, they judge from the sound whether
they are near an aperture; and as soon as they are satisfied, cut away
the ice and stop up the opening, so that the beavers, if alarmed, may
not escape into the water. They then proceed to the shore, and by
repeated soundings trace the course of the beavers' subterranean
passage, which is sometimes eight or ten yards long, and by closely
watching the different apertures invariably catch the inhabitants. While
thus engaged, they must be careful not to spill any blood, as in case of
such a mishap the rest of the beavers take alarm, retreat to the water,
and cannot be captured. The trappers entertain a superstitious notion,
which leads them to remove a kneecap from each beaver and throw it into
the fire.

The beavers generally quit their huts in the summer-time, though one or
two of the houses may be tenanted by a mother and her young family.
Those old beavers which are free from domestic ties take to the water,
and swim up and down the stream in bachelor-like liberty until the month
of August, when they return to a settled life. There are, also, certain
individuals called by the trappers "_les paresseux_," or "the idlers,"
which do not live in houses, and construct no dam, but dwell in
subterranean tunnels like those of our common water-rat. They are always
males; gay young bachelors, with no incentives, we will suppose, to an
industrious career. Neither in the beaver nor in the human world,
however, does idleness prosper, for the capture of "les paresseux" is a
comparatively easy task.

       *       *       *       *       *

South America is the home of those singular Edentate Mammals, with scaly
shields, which the natives call _Tatous_, but which are better known to
Europeans by the name of _Armadillos_ (_Priodonta gigas_). Cuvier has
divided the whole genus into five groups, distinguished from one another
by the number and form of their teeth and claws:--"Cachecames," "Apars,"
"Encouberts," "Cabassous," and "Priodontes." Their general
characteristics, however, are the same, and to describe one is virtually
to describe all.

The body of the Armadillo has been invested by nature with a complete
suit of armour: thus the head is protected by an oval or triangular
plate, the shoulders by a large buckler, and the haunches by a similar
buckler; while between these solid portions intervenes a series of
transverse bands, or zones of shell, which accommodate this coat of mail
to the various postures of the body; the tail also is covered by a
series of calcareous rings, so that the animal exhibits a peculiar and
somewhat ungainly appearance. Like the hedgehog, he can roll himself up
into a ball, and present a solid impervious substance to the attacks of
any adversary. The interior surface of the body, not covered by the
shell, is clothed with coarse scattered hairs, some of which also emerge
between the joints of the coat of mail.

This strange quadruped, like a mediæval knight,--

    "In armour sheathed from top to toe,"--

has a rather pointed snout, long ears, short and thick limbs, and stout
claws. Nature has thus fitted him by a peculiarly admirable organization
for those habits of burrowing, which he performs with such astonishing
rapidity that it is almost impossible to capture him by digging. His
hunters therefore smoke him out of his subterraneous lair; as soon as he
reaches the surface he rolls himself up, and is easily taken prisoner.
He is then roasted in his shell, and devoured with avidity, his flesh
being as great a dainty to a South American Indian as turtle to a London
alderman.

By the side of the armadillos we may place another individual of the
Edentata, not less strange in form: this is the _Tamanoir_, or Great
Ant-Eater (_Myrmecophaga jubata_), which feeds exclusively on ants,
digging open their hills with his powerful crooked claws, and drawing
his long flexible tongue, covered with viscous saliva, lightly over the
myriad insects that immediately sally forth to defend their homes.

[Illustration: 1. Armadillo Loricata. 2. Ant-Eater.]

"The habits of the Myrmecophaga jubata are now pretty well known. It is
not uncommon in the drier forests of the Amazons valley. The Brazilians
call the species the _Tamanduá bandeira_, or the Banner Ant-Eater; the
term banner," says Mr. Bates,[138] "being applied in allusion to the
curious coloration of the animal, each side of the body having a broad
oblique stripe, half gray and half black, which gives it some
resemblance to a heraldic banner. It has an excessively long, slender
muzzle, and a warm-like extensile tongue. Its jaws are destitute of
teeth. The claws are much elongated, and its gait is very awkward. It
lives on the ground, but all the other species of this singular genus
are arboreal. I met with four species altogether. One was the
_Myrmecophaga tetradactyla_, or Little Ant-Eater; the two others, more
curious and less known, were very small kinds, called _Tamanduá-i_
(_Myrmecophaga tamandua_). Both are similar in size--ten inches in
length, exclusive of the tail--and in the number of the claws, having
two of unequal length to the anterior feet, and four to the hind feet.
One species is clothed with grayish-yellow silky hair; this is of rare
occurrence. The other has a fur of a dingy brown colour, without silky
lustre. One was brought to me alive, having been caught by an Indian
clinging motionless inside a hollow tree. I kept it in the house about
twenty-four hours. It had a moderately long snout, curved downwards, and
extremely small eyes. It remained nearly all the time without motion,
except when irritated, in which case it reared itself on its hind-legs
from the back of a chair to which it clung, and clawed out with its
fore-paws like a cat. Its manner of clinging with its claws, and the
sluggishness of its motions, gave it a great resemblance to a sloth. It
uttered no sound, and remained all night on the spot where I had placed
it in the morning. The next day I put it on a tree in the open air, and
at night it escaped. These small Tamanduás are nocturnal in their
habits, and feed on those species of termites which construct earthy
nests, that look like ugly excrescences on the trunks and branches of
trees. The different kinds of ant-eaters are thus adapted to various
modes of life, terrestrial and arboreal."

In Tropical America the most remarkable representatives of the Carnivora
are two great species of Felidæ: the Puma, or Cougouar (_Felis
concolor_), also called the Lion of America; and the Jaguar, or Ounce
(_Felis onca_), sometimes distinguished as the American Tiger.

The Puma measures about five feet from nose to tail; the tail alone
measuring two feet and a half. His colour is a brownish-red, with small
patches of deeper tint, only shown up by certain lights; the breast,
belly, and inner flanks are of a reddish ash; the lower jaw and throat
entirely white; the tail of a dusky ferruginous tinge, tipped with
black. As he grows older, however, his general colour becomes a silvery
fawn. He has no mane. His manners--that is, his habits and
disposition--are rather those of the panther than the lion. He climbs
trees with cat-like expertness, whether in chase of birds, or to secure
a vantage-point from which he may pounce upon some unsuspecting victim.
He never attacks the larger quadrupeds, confining himself to such "small
deer" as young calves, colts, and sheep. Men, children, dogs--these he
suffers to pass by unmolested. His depredations are nocturnal. When
domesticated, he may well be likened to the common cat, and he shows his
pleasure at being caressed by the same kind of gentle purring. But he is
a ferocious animal, and will kill fifty sheep or more in order to drink
their blood.

[Illustration: COUGOUARS, OR PUMAS.]

A much more formidable animal is the Jaguar. In size and strength he is
but little inferior to the tiger. He has a large and rounded head; his
pliant body is marked on the back with long uninterrupted stripes, on
the legs and thighs with full black spots; his ground colour is a pale
brownish-yellow; his legs are short, thick, and robust. He extends his
ravages over all Central and South America, and over a considerable
range of the northern continent. Like the tiger, he loves the shade of
hot swampy jungles, the neighbourhood of the river and the lake. He
generally preys on animals of domestic origin, which have grown wild in
the prairies and the pampas, but he will also attack the bisons, and the
other herbivora. Fish, too, he does not disdain to eat; and in default
of other food, will even seize upon the caïmans. It is rare that he
attacks man; but if attacked by him, he defends himself courageously,
and his muscular strength renders him exceedingly formidable. Not even
an Ajax could maintain a combat with him as Fitz-James fought with
Roderick Dhu, when--

    "Foot, and point, and eye opposed,
     In dubious strife they darkly closed;"

if man would win, he must arm himself with bow and arrow, keen spear, or
unerring rifle. The hunter, thus provided, pursues him with restless
animosity to obtain his fur, which is much esteemed in commerce, where
it is improperly designated by the names of "Great Panther," and
"American Tiger."

[Illustration: BISON ATTACKED BY A JAGUAR.]

According to Humboldt, the Pampas are colonized with dogs grown wild,
which gather in great numbers in subterranean caverns, and oftentimes,
when stimulated by hunger, fling themselves upon man, in whose defence
they originally displayed their courage.

[Illustration: PRAIRIE WOLVES (_Arctomys Ludoricianus_).]

In North America there exists a very curious species of Rodents,
belonging to the sub-genus _Spermophilus_, or _Spermatophilus_--that is,
"grain-eaters." They are better known by the hunter's name, "Prairie
Dogs." Mr. Murray remarks that it is difficult to say _why_ they
obtained such an absurd appellation, for they do not bear the slightest
resemblance to the canine species, either in formation or habits.[139]
"In size," he says, "they vary extremely, but in general they are not
larger than a squirrel, and not unlike one in appearance, except that
they want his bushy tail; the head is also somewhat rounder. They burrow
under the light soil, and throw it up round the entrance to their
dwelling like the English rabbit; on this little mound they generally
sit, chirping and chattering to one another, like two neighbour gossips
in a village. Their number is incredible, and their cities (for they
deserve no less a name) full of activity and bustle. I do not know what
their occupations are; but I have seen them constantly running from one
hole to another, although they do not ever pay any distant visits. They
seem on the approach of danger always to retire to their own homes; but
their great delight apparently consists in braving it, with the usual
insolence of cowardice when secure from punishment; for, as you
approach, they wag their little tails, elevate their heads, and chatter
at you like a monkey, louder and louder the nearer you come; but no
sooner is the hand raised to any missile, whether gun, arrow, stick, or
stone, than they pop into the hole with a rapidity only equalled by that
sudden disappearance of Punch, with which, when a child, I have been so
much delighted in the streets and squares of London."

Captain Murray observes that as there is generally neither rain nor dew
on the plains which they inhabit, during the summer, while, on the other
hand, these little creatures never wander far from their "towns," it
seems reasonable to conclude they need no other liquid than they can
extract from the grass they eat. It is certain that they pass the winter
in a complete state of lethargy and torpor, for they accumulate no
supply of provisions against that season; while the herbage which
thrives about their habitat dries up in autumn, and soon afterwards the
frosts render it impossible for them to procure their ordinary food.
When the prairie dog feels the approach of his time of somnolence--generally
about the end of October--he closes all the passages of his dormitory to
protect him from the cold, and wholly resigns himself to the pleasures
of repose. He remains thus immured and inert until awakened by the first
warm airs of spring, when he throws wide his gates and reappears on the
surface of the refreshened earth, in all his whilome liveliness and
gaiety.



CHAPTER XI.

ANIMAL LIFE IN THE PRAIRIES OF THE NEW WORLD:--BIRDS AND REPTILES.


We have seen in a preceding chapter that the great terrestrial and
aquatic birds ("Waders") of the wild plains of the Ancient World have
few analogues in America, and that the small number of genera which are
represented therein are represented by much smaller species. I have
cited the Ostrich and the Phenicopterus. The American Ostrich, or Nandou
(_Rhea_), is not above half the size of his African congener, from which
he differs in having the feet three-toed, and each toe armed with a
claw. Moreover, his head and neck are more fully clothed with plumage;
the wings are plumed, and more perfectly developed; and he is tailless.
The neck has sixteen vertebræ. Though endowed with more perfect wings
than the Ostrich of Africa, he is nevertheless incapable of flight,
representing another grade in Nature's slow ascent from the wingless
bird to the bird possessed of full powers of flight. He inhabits the
wide grassy plains of South America below the Equator, and as far south
as latitude 42°. He is never seen across the Cordilleras, but roams in
great numbers the banks of La Plata and its tributaries. He is generally
seen in small troops.

There are at least three species: the _Rhea Americana_, about five feet
high; the _Rhea macrorhyncha_, distinguished by its large bill; and the
_Rhea Darwinii_, the smallest, which inhabits Patagonia.

The Flamingoes proper to the New World are: the Red Flamingo, all whose
plumage glows with a more or less vivid red; and the Fiery Flamingo,
probably only a variety of the preceding. Both are natives of the dreary
Patagonian desert, of Chili, and some other southern districts.

[Illustration: 1. Cathartes-Urubu. 2. King of the Vultures.]

The order of Waders, and that of Palmipeds, include, in the low marshy
levels of this continent, some characteristic species: notably, the
Jacanas and the Kamichis; the Agami or Trumpet-Bird, remarkable for its
pastoral instinct, its domestic aptitudes, and the ringing sound of its
voice; the Savacou, which, in the structure of its enormous beak and its
general habits, is allied to the African Balæniceps. Here, as in Africa,
a species of rapacious Grallator flourishes, the _Cariama_, delivering
"a war to the knife" against the reptile legions. Raptores more
accurately defined--such, for example, as the _Falco cachinnans_, or
Laughing Vulture--share in the destructive campaign against frogs,
toads, lizards, and small serpents. And in the New, as in the Old World,
Nature does not neglect the work of purification, intrusting it in the
savannahs and the pampas to various kinds of Vulturidæ, which devour the
putrid carcasses that would otherwise pollute the atmosphere. The
_Cathartes-Urubu_ and the _Aura_ are the most common species; the
Mexicans call them _Zopilotes_. They are found in all Central and
Southern America, and frequently range to very high latitudes. They are
of small size, very social, easy familiarized with man, and may be seen
in great numbers, not alone in the deserts and plains, but in the great
towns, where they efficiently play the part of great sanitary reformers.
They are gifted with extraordinary delicacy of scent; they detect the
existence of carrion at great distances, and flock from the four
quarters of heaven to banquet upon it. The _Sarcoramphus Papa_, or "King
of the Vultures," a species closely allied to the great Condor of the
Andes, is likewise encountered very frequently in the plains of Tropical
America, but only where the herbage has been set on fire; which is a
common enough occurrence, either through lightning, or by accident or
design on the part of the Indians. Then he arrives on rapid pinion to
prey upon the lizards, and frogs, and serpents which are destroyed by
the scathing and consuming flames. His attire is more elegant than his
mission in creation would seem to render necessary. The plumage on the
upper part of the body is of a reddish hue, the neck and head of a
delicate bluish-violet, the beak red, the crest orange, the eyebrows
white, and the wings black. He is about the size of the domestic
Turkey. The tawny _Caracara_, a bird of the genus _Polyborus_, as large
as the common Kite, and with a tail nine inches long; and the _Harpy
Eagle_ (Thrasaëtus), distinguished by its formidable beak and legs, its
erect crest and flashing eyes--both widely distributed in all the hot
regions of the New World--belong to the _Falconidæ_ family (in the
latest classification), as well as the great white-headed Fishing Eagle,
or Pygargue (_Haliaëtus Leucocephalus_), which inhabits the northern
continent. The latter has been eloquently described by the Paisley
ornithologist, the celebrated Wilson:[140]--"Elevated on the high dead
branch of some gigantic tree that commands a wide view of the
neighbouring shore and ocean, he seems calmly to contemplate the motions
of the various feathered tribes that pursue their busy avocations below;
all the winged multitudes that subsist by the bounty of this vast liquid
magazine of Nature. High over all these hovers one whose action
instantly arrests his attention. By his wide curvature of wing and
sudden suspension in the air, he knows him to be the Fish Hawk, settling
over some devoted victim of the deep. His eye kindles at the sight, and,
balancing himself with half-opened wings on the branch, he watches the
result. Down, rapid as an arrow from heaven, descends the distant object
of his attention, the roar of his wings reaching the ear as he
disappears in the deep, making the surges foam around! At this moment,
the eager looks of the eagle are all ardour, and, levelling his neck for
flight, he sees the fish hawk emerge struggling with his prey, and
mounting in the air with screams of exultation. These are the signals
for our hero, who, launching into the air, instantly gives chase, and
soon gains on the hawk; each exerts his utmost to mount above the other,
displaying in these rencounters the most elegant and sublime aërial
evolutions. The unencumbered eagle rapidly advances, and is just on the
point of reaching his opponent, when, with a sudden scream, probably of
despair and honest execration, the latter drops the fish; the eagle,
poising himself for a moment, as if to take a more certain aim, descends
like a whirlwind, snatches it in his grasp ere it reaches the water, and
bears his ill-gotten booty silently away to the woods."

A similar picture, let me add, has been painted by the poet Spenser,
though he refers, of course, to the British Eagle:--

    "Like to an eagle, in his kingly pride,
     Soaring through his wide empire of the air
     To weather his broad sails, by chance has spied
     A goshawk, which hath seizèd for her share
     Upon some fowl that should her feast prepare.
     With dreadful force he flies at her again,
     That with his voice which none endure or dare
     Her from the quarry he away doth drive,
     And from her griping pounce the greedy prey doth rive."

The _Reptilia_ are represented in America by a very great number of
species, many being remarkable for their great size or the terrible
venom with which they are provided. The crocodiles of the American
continent form a distinct genus, sometimes designated _Alligator_, and
sometimes _Caiman_. The Alligators, or Caimans (_Alligator lucius_), are
Saurians of huge bulk; with a long flat head, thick neck and body, a
cavernous mouth suggestive of infinite voracity, dull cruel eyes, and a
long taper tail, which, strongly compressed on the sides, is surmounted
with a double series of strong plates, that unite about the middle, and
form a single row to the extremity. It is this tail that gives them most
of their progressive power in the water, and though it obstructs their
movements on land, it is useful even then as a powerful weapon of
defence. Transverse rows of square bony plates, rising in the centre
into keel-shaped ridges, protect the body, and render the hideous animal
exceedingly formidable as an antagonist. It frequently attains the
length of eighteen, and is seldom less than fifteen feet. Its teeth are
numerous, sharp, and strong; its claws long and tenacious. It feeds
generally on fish, turtle, fowl, or whatever other prey may fall within
its reach; and woe to the unfortunate animal that comes to the
river-bank in quest of water within the range of this ferocious saurian.

[Illustration: ALLIGATORS, OR CAIMANS.]

The caiman never attacks man if his intended victim is on his guard, but
he is cunning enough to know when this may be done with impunity. Mr.
Bates records an affecting instance. The river Amazons at Caiçara had
sunk one season to a very low point, so that the port and bathing-place
of the village now lay at the foot of a long sloping bank, and a large
caiman made his appearance in the shallow and muddy water. "We were all
obliged," says our traveller,[141] "to be very careful in taking our
bath; most of the people simply using a calabash, pouring the water over
themselves while standing on the brink. A large trading canoe, belonging
to a Barra merchant, arrived at this time, and the Indian crew, as
usual, spent the first day or two after their coming into port in
drunkenness and debauchery ashore. One of the men, during the greatest
heat of the day, when almost every one was enjoying his afternoon's nap,
took it into his head whilst in a tipsy state to go down and bathe. He
was seen only by the Suiz de Paz (Justice of Peace), a feeble old man
who was lying in his hammock, in the open verandah at the rear of his
house on the top of the bank, and who shouted to the besotted Indian to
beware of the alligator. Before he could repeat his warning the man
stumbled, and a pair of gaping jaws, appearing suddenly above the
surface, seized him round the waist and drew him under the water. A cry
of agony was the last sign made by the wretched victim. The village was
aroused; the young men, with praiseworthy readiness, seized their
harpoons and hurried down to the bank; but of course it was too late, a
winding track of blood on the surface of the water was all that could be
seen. They embarked, however, in light boats, determined on vengeance;
the monster was traced, and when, after a short lapse of time, he came
up to breathe, one leg sticking out from his jaws, was dispatched with
bitter curses."

In the temperate regions of North America, where crocodiles still exist,
these animals pass the entire winter in lethargic torpor. In the Pampas
of tropical America, on the contrary, it is during the hot season that
they remain inert in the mud of the dried-up marshes. "According to the
statements of the natives," says Humboldt, "you may sometimes see, on
the return of the rainy season, the humid clay slowly uplifted and
loosened in great clods. A violent detonation soon makes itself heard,
and the earth is flung up into the air to a great height, as in
eruptions of small mud volcanoes. If you understand the cause of this
phenomenon you will quickly take to flight, for from this retreat
immediately emerges a monstrous water-serpent or a plated crocodile,
which the first shower has awakened from his lethargy." The great
water-serpent here spoken of is, in all probability, the gigantic
Boa-Constrictor, one of the most dangerous denizens of the marshy plains
of equatorial America. Travellers of unimpeachable authority assert that
this frightful reptile often attains the length of thirty-six to
forty-five feet. Day and night he lurks among the tall rank herbage; in
the morning and the evening he places himself in ambush on the border of
some lake or water-course to surprise the quadrupeds which flock thither
to quench their thirst. By means of his prehensile tail he suspends
himself to a tree on the shore, and patiently awaits the coming prey.
When an animal passes within his reach, he swiftly seizes it, enfolds it
in his spiral coils, crushes it against the tree which serves for his
_point d'appui_, compresses its bleeding mass into a convenient form,
covers it with a glutinous saliva, and swallows it. In this fashion the
boa will devour a stag or even an ox entire, nor does he fear to attack
the puma and the jaguar. Whether he is dangerous to man may reasonably
be doubted; his immense size, at all events, renders it easy to avoid
him. He preys upon fish in default of other provision, and to catch his
victims often remains for a considerable time with his head and a
portion of his body plunged under water.

The true scourges of tropical America and the Antilles are the
_Rattlesnake_ and the lance-headed _Viper_.

The Rattlesnake (_Crotalus horridus_) is one of the deadliest of
venomous serpents, is frequently six feet in length, and as thick as a
man's leg. But Providence has furnished it with an antidote against its
own poison, or, at least, with an instrument which makes it its own
betrayer, and warns man involuntarily against its formidable presence.
This is the _rattle_ to which it owes its vulgar appellation. The rattle
is situated at the end of the tail, and consists of several hard, dry,
bony processes. Imagine a string of hollow, dry, semi-transparent bones,
nearly of the same size and figure, and resembling to some extent the
shape of the human _os sacrum_: imagine these so placed that the tip of
every uppermost bone runs within two of the bones below it; imagine
these constantly clattering against each other, as the reptile moves,
with a hoarse, dull, echoing sound, and you will be able to form some
idea of the permanent warning of its approach which the Crotalus carries
about with it. The rattle is placed with the broad part perpendicular to
the body, and not horizontal; and the first joint is attached to the
last vertebra of the tail by means of a thick muscle beneath it, no less
than by the membranes which unite it to the skin. The bony rings
increase in number with the reptile's age, and it gains an additional
one, it is said, at each casting of the skin.

[Illustration: CROTALUS, AND BOA-CONSTRICTOR.]

The _Crotalus horridus_ is of a yellowish-brown colour, varied with
patches of a deeper hue, and from the head to some distance down the
neck run two or three longitudinal stripes of the same. Its habits are
sluggish; it moves slowly, and only bites when angered, or for the
purpose of killing its prey. It is provided with two kinds of
teeth--viz., the smaller, which, planted in each jaw, serve to catch and
retain the food; and secondly, the fangs or poisonous teeth, which kill
the prey, and are placed outside the upper jaw. It feeds principally
upon the smaller mammals and upon birds, which it seems certain it
possesses a peculiar power of fascinating--the effect, it may be, of
intense fear. "When the piercing eye of the rattlesnake is fixed on
them," says Mr. Murray, "terror and amazement render them incapable of
escaping; and, while involuntarily keeping their eyes fixed on those of
the reptile, birds have been seen to drop into its mouth, as if
paralyzed, squirrels descend from their trees, and leverets run into the
jaws of the expecting devourer." Hogs and peccaries, however, are
unaffected by this panic, and feed greedily upon the reptile which
causes it, whose venomous fangs cannot penetrate their formidable hide.
Its poison, once imbibed, is very fatal, acting upon man and the larger
mammals, such as the horse or ass, in a few hours.

[Illustration: TRIGONOCEPHALUS PURSUED BY BIRDS.]

The lance-headed Viper or Trigonocephalus (_Bothrops lanceolatus_), is
most common in the West Indian Islands, where it is justly dreaded. It
has been computed that, at Martinique, fifty persons out of a population
of 125,000 souls die annually from the bite of these odious reptiles.
Their fecundity is frightful. Every female bears sixty young, which on
their very advent into the world are completely formed and able to
wound. This viper, moreover, carries no warning rattle; nothing
indicates its presence; and in the countries which it inhabits, the
wayfarer, if prudent, will beat the herbs and bushes as he advances with
a switch. Then the Trigonocephalus, if there be one in the way, will
take flight and reveal itself, for it is too large to glide away unseen.
Therefore, the negroes of Martinique, who, of necessity, are assiduous
reptile hunters, state as an incontrovertible axiom, confirmed by
immemorial experience, that "a serpent seen is a serpent dead." In
truth, the serpent is only formidable to man when not perceived, and
when one treads upon it accidentally. In the open field its defeat and
death are inevitable, however little coolness or skill its assailant may
possess. And to warn us of the presence of the Trigonocephalus, Nature
has supplied us with numerous watchful sentinels in the small birds,
whose not unreasonable hate against this serpent is a remarkable proof
of their intelligence. If ever your destiny conduct you to the Antilles,
says a naturalist, cold-blooded sportsman as you may be, do not slay the
little bird which the grateful negroes, though he sings but little, have
wished to name the nightingale; for if you do so, they will regard you
with suspicion and dislike. He is their protector, and he watches also
over you. No sooner does he see, from his aërial station, the scales of
the reptile gliding into the herbage or glittering among the large
leaves, than he can no longer control himself. He flies to and fro, he
leaps from branch to branch, summoning with a lamentable cry all the
feathered tribe from the neighbouring trees. From far and near the cry
widens and is repeated; from all directions flock nightingales, and
thrushes, grosbeaks, and humming-birds, and hovering above the assassin,
furiously denounce it, and indicate its lurking-place to man. Irritated
by such a concert of maledictions, the serpent elevates its crest, but,
lo! they are far beyond its reach! And the cries, the murmurs, the
insults are redoubled! It seeks to conceal itself, but these cries
persistently accompany it. Wherever it drags its slimy shining bulk,
they follow, they harass, and they denounce it. Either night comes on,
or it succeeds in completely hiding itself from their watchful gaze,
before they reluctantly leave it to its own devices. Great the
consternation if their enemy escape them! But what joy, what triumphal
sounds, if man appears upon the scene and slays it!

       *       *       *       *       *

I have previously alluded to the enormous toads found in South America,
and to the gigantic frog which belongs to the northern continent. Among
the former I may particularize as one of the largest known species, the
_Agua_; and, as remarkable for its mode of gestation, the _Pipa_. The
Surinam Toad, or _Pipa Surinamensis_ (the _Bufo Pipa_ of Linné), is
distinguished by its large triangular head, and horizontally flattened
body, with a granulated back. It is now ascertained that the female
deposits her spawn at the brink of some shallow or stagnant pool; the
male then collects the heap and cautiously places it on the back of the
female, where, after impregnation, they are pressed into cellules
produced by the tumefaction of the skin. In rather less than three
months the eggs are hatched, and the young emerge in a complete state.

The Bull-Frog (_Rana pipilus_), of North America, is from six to eight
inches long and from three to four inches broad. When his limbs are
fully extended he measures about eighteen inches in length. Its back is
of a sombre green colour, varied with black; the under-parts being of a
whitish hue, tinged with green, and thickly spotted. The fore-feet have
only four toes, and are unwebbed; the hind-feet are large, long, and
widely webbed. Its voice may be compared to the distant lowing of a
bull, and a chorus of them at night is sufficient to arouse the soundest
sleeper. They prey upon ducklings, goslings, and small birds, drowning
before devouring them. Spite of its size and ungainliness, it is very
nimble, and can accomplish a leap of upwards of six feet in height.

[Illustration: 1. Bufo Agua. 2. Pipa Surinamensis.]

Incomplete as is this rapid survey of the Fauna of the New World
Deserts, I cannot terminate it without referring to the strange and
formidable fish which haunt the pools, lakes, and marshes of South
America--those _Gymnoti_, or Electrical Eels, sometimes five, six, and
even eight feet long, which emit electrical discharges of sufficient
violence to strike down a man, a horse, or an ox. It is by this singular
property the gymnotus supports its existence; its shocks stupify the
smaller fishes and other animals that come within its range, so that
they fall an easy prey to its voracity. The electrical organs consist of
four bundles of parallel membranaceous laminæ arranged along the inner
side of the tail, and constituting a remarkably powerful battery.

[Illustration: FISHING FOR GYMNOTI.]

In hunting the gymnoti the Indians adopt a cruel expedient. They drive a
herd of horses and mules into the ponds which these eels inhabit, and
harpoon them when they have spent their electrical force on the unhappy
quadrupeds. The fish swim on the surface of the water like serpents, and
skilfully glide beneath the animal's body, discharging the whole length
of their electrical battery, and attacking simultaneously the digestive
viscera, and, above all, the gastric plexus of nerves. Fain would the
horses escape their enemies' attacks, but the Indians drive them back
into the water with stout canes of bamboo and long whips. After awhile
the eels grow exhausted; the animals show less alarm; and the Indians
begin to ply their harpoons with equal agility and success. There are
several species of this remarkable fish, and most, if not all, are
valued as wholesome food. The Gymnotus Electricus, however, is the only
one which possesses any electrical powers.



CHAPTER XII.

ANIMAL LIFE IN THE AUSTRALIAN PRAIRIES.


The first naturalists who explored the littoral of the Australian
continent and its adjacent islands were struck with astonishment at the
sight of the strange and almost monstrous animals they discovered there.
Far more certainly than Columbus had they fallen in with a New World; a
new world of zoology and botany; a world apart, peopled by beings wholly
different from those they had elsewhere studied, and some of which
exhibited a complexity and originality of organization and structure
wholly antagonistic to the received theories of fundamental
characteristics belonging to the various classes of the animal kingdom.
The Australian Fauna, in this respect, can only be compared to that of
Madagascar, which equally bears an impress peculiarly its own, and
presents but a few features of kinship with the Indian Fauna. It is the
latter also that the Australian Fauna most closely approaches, or, to
speak more correctly, from which it least widely diverges.

The great Herbivora--Pachyderms, Ruminants, and Solidungulates--are
absolutely wanting in Australia, as well as the Carnivora properly so
called--Apes and Lemuridæ. The class of Mammals is only represented by
a small number of Cheiroptera and Rodents; by some Amphibia, Phocæ, and
Otidæ (Seals and Bustards), which inhabit the bays carved out of its
long line of coast; by the Marsupials and a very limited order of
Monotremata. The two latter groups are pre-eminently characteristic of
the Australian Fauna; the second belongs exclusively to it. Little,
indeed, is wanting to make it identical with the sub-class of the
Marsupials, represented only in South America by the genera Opossum
didelphis, Hemiurus, and Chironectes, and elsewhere limited to New
Holland, Tasmania, New Guinea, New Zealand, and some other less
important islands of Oceania.

The Marsupials (from the Greek [Greek: marsypos], a purse) owe their
distinctive name to a very curious peculiarity in the organization of
the females. The latter bring their young into the world while still
very feeble, and of themselves fix them to their breasts, where they
remain attached until they have acquired that degree of development
which all other mammals possess at their birth. Generally the breasts
are covered with a loose skin, forming a sort of pouch or purse, in
which the young are concealed, which protects them against climatic
changes, and enables the mother conveniently to carry them everywhere
about with her. Two particular bones, called the marsupial bones,
attached to the pubis, and placed amidst the abdominal muscles, support
this pouch. They assist, says Professor Owen, in producing a compression
of the mammary gland, necessary for the alimentation of a peculiarly
feeble offspring, and they defend the abdominal viscera from the
pressure of the young as they increase in size, during their mammary or
marsupial existence, and still more when they return to the pouch for
temporary shelter.

The marsupials present, moreover, in the different families composing
the order, a great diversity of organization. Most of them are
herbivorous or frugivorous; but there are some which prefer animal
nourishment, and which, in their habits as well as in the structure of
their jaws and their digestive apparatus, closely approach the
carnivora.

The order of which I am speaking includes some animals of great size.
Such is the Great Kangaroo (_Macropus giganteus_), which generally
measures about seven and a half feet in length from the nose to the tip
of the tail, the tail being rather more than three feet in length, and
fully twelve inches in circumference at the base. In its erect sitting
posture, when it rests on its hind-legs and the root of its tail as on a
tripod, its height amounts to about fifty inches; but when it rises on
its toes to look around, its stature exceeds that of a man. The great
length of its hind-legs is a notable peculiarity; their feet are
provided with only four toes, the central being very long, of great
strength, and terminated in a large and powerful hoof-like nail or claw.
The fore-legs, on the contrary, are very short, and the feet divided
into five toes, each furnished with a short and somewhat hooked claw.
The animal's head is small, with rather pointed ears, and large but
placid eyes; it has a thin and gracefully proportioned neck; so that a
startling discrepancy is observable between the fore and the posterior
parts of the animal, though the general effect is neither ungraceful nor
unpleasing. It should be noticed that the kangaroo never folds his tail
between his legs, which, I may add, are extraordinarily strong. The
thighs are thick, the tarsi long and robust. He only walks on all fours
when hotly pressed, and then his appearance is decidedly ungainly. In
escaping from an enemy he rears himself upright, skims the plain with
bounding leaps, and in a few minutes leaves behind him the swiftest
horse or dog. But if all avenues of retreat be closed to him, he plants
himself firmly against a tree or a rock and fights with obstinate
courage, ripping up his assailants with his potent hind-feet, like a
stag with his horns or a wild boar with his tusks.

The diet of the kangaroo is essentially "vegetarian;" he lives upon
leaves, herbs, and roots, and employs his fore-paws, like the Rodents,
to carry his food to his mouth. The animal's habits are mild and
inoffensive. They roamed very peacefully about the Australian prairies
before the new continent was opened up to European enterprise; having no
other enemies to fear than the natives, who were scattered in small
tribes over a few points of an immense territory. Their chase is now
one of the favourite amusements of the colonists, who destroy them in
great numbers. They are easily domesticated, and may be regarded as
already acclimatized in Europe, where, it is hoped, they may prove of
great utility. The flesh of the tame Kangaroo is very good, but that of
the wild animal is still better. Their skin, covered with a thick hair
of an uniformly gray colour, may be adapted to various purposes.

The genus comprehends several species of very different dimensions: as,
the Great Kangaroo, already mentioned; the Woolly or Red Kangaroo (_M.
laniger_), which rather exceeds it in size; and the Potoroo, which is
larger than a rat.

[Illustration: LARGE-BROWED WOMBAT (_Phascolomys latifrons_).]

I must cite, besides the Kangaroos, as the most remarkable types of the
Australian Marsupials, the Phascolomys, the Phascolarctos, the
Phalangas, and the Thylacynas.

The Phascolomys, like the kangaroo, has been introduced into Europe,
where he seems to be perfectly acclimatized, and specimens may be seen
both in the London Zoological Gardens and the Jardin Zoologique of
Paris. He is better known by his native name of the Wombat (_Phascolomys
Wombat_), and was first discovered by Bass, the gallant explorer and
surgeon, whose name is indissolubly connected with the bright deeds of
Australian discovery. The large-browed wombat might, at first sight, be
mistaken for a small bear. His loins are thick, his limbs short, his
hair coarse--thickly set on the loins, back, and head, thinly scattered
about the belly--and of a light, shining sandy-brown. It is difficult to
say why he is surnamed _latifrons_, for his forehead is no larger than
that of other animals of his family; and, at all events, he exhibits, by
way of compensation, an extraordinary extent of surface in the hinder
parts, which, as they are utterly deficient in tail, present a very
grotesque appearance. He burrows like the badger, and on the Australian
continent never quits his retreat until night sets in. He lives on herbs
and roots. The natives roast his flesh, and esteem it a viand of no
ordinary excellence.

The Phascolarctos, or Koala (_Phascolarctos cinereus_), is closely
allied to the wombat. He is strongly but clumsily made, with robust
limbs and powerful claws, which he employs in clinging to the branches
of the trees where he chiefly makes his home. However, he frequently
visits _terra firma_, and burrows with great ease; concealing himself in
a torpid state in his subterranean retreat during the cold season. His
fore-feet have each five toes, of which two are opposed to the other
three--a circumstance noted in no other mammal. He has no tail, like the
wombat. His coat is a bluish-gray fur, very thick and extremely soft,
darkest on the back, and very pale under the throat and belly. An
elongated nose looks as if it were tipped with black leather. The eyes
are round and dark; the ears almost hidden in the plenitude of fur. By
day he is a drowsy and, sooth to say, a stupid animal; but at night he
wakes up into a more active state. He feeds upon the fresh young tops of
trees, selecting their blossoms and young shoots; and though in
appearance resembling the Phalanga, in habits seems closely allied to
the Sloth.

The _Phalangas_ form the typical genus of the tribe of Phalangistins,
which comprehends, in addition, the genera _Trichosura_, _Pseudochira_,
and _Dromicia_. Several species are met with in Malaysia, but they
chiefly belong to the Australian Fauna. They live chiefly in trees,
feeding on various kinds of small animals, insects, eggs, and fruits,
which they grasp between their fore-paws, and so bring to their mouth.
Their appearance may be imagined by putting together a rather short head
with short ears and short woolly fur; a squirrel-like body and long
prehensile tail, sometimes completely covered with hair: the body
measures about twenty-six inches, and the tail about fifteen inches. The
two principal species are the Sooty Phalanga (_Phalangista fuliginosa_),
found in Van Diemen's Land, and named in reference to its smoky black
fur; and the Vulpine Phalanga, or Vulpine Opossum (_P. vulpina_), widely
distributed over Australia, and having a fox-like character about his
head. The Flying Phalangas are also allied to this genus.

The _Thylacyni_ are distinguished from the Opossums by the hind-feet
having no thumb, by a hairy and non-prehensile tail, and by having two
incisors less to each jaw. Only one species is known to exist in
Australia,[142] where it is called the "Tasmanian Wolf," and sometimes
"Tiger" and "Hyæna." It resembles a wolf in many respects, but its
hinder parts are sensibly higher than its fore; its elongated muzzle is
almost cylindrical in shape, and very thick; and his tail, broad at the
base, tapers away to a fine point. The colour is gray, striped with
black across the hinder limbs.

Of the _Thylacynus cynocephalus_ M. Paul Gervais furnishes the following
description:[143]--

"There exists in Tasmania an animal of carnivorous habits almost as
large as a wolf, and whose external forms at the first glance do not
differ sufficiently from those of the latter to prevent one from
including him in the family _Canidæ_; but this member of the Carnivora,
though he has also the wolf's appetite, and commits havoc in the same
manner among the flocks of the colonists, belongs, like most of the
Australian Mammals, to the sub-class of Marsupials. There is also much
analogy, in many of its osteological characteristics, with the extinct
genera of the Hyenodons and Ptérodons; but the latter are in reality
Monodelphia, and should be ranged among the Carnivora properly so
called. The English settlers in Van Diemen's Land give the thylacynus
the name of _Zebra Wolf_, because it has, in effect, the greater portion
of the dorsal region and the base of the tail marked with transversal
brown lines, like zebra stripes. This carnivorous animal is also their
_Dog-headed Opossum_.

[Illustration: THYLACYNUS CYNOCEPHALUS.]

"Allied to other Marsupials by the totality of its anatomical
characteristics, it is nevertheless easy to distinguish generically; in
the first place, it is of great size, and its exterior recalls that of
the Wolf, though it has a longer head and a tail garnished with very
short hair; the latter is, at the same time, a little depressed.
Moreover, it numbers forty-six teeth, with wide intervals between each.
It is digitigrade: it has five toes on the fore, and four toes on its
hinder feet; its marsupial bones are simply rudimental."

If there be one group of animals more than another whose unforeseen
discovery has succeeded in astonishing and embarrassing zoologists, it
is assuredly that which has been designated by the name of
_Monotremata_. It is the lowest order of vertebrated animals, the very
bottom of the scale, approximating in many characteristic points to the
family of Birds. The pelvis, it is true, is furnished with marsupial
bones, but these animals possess no pouch. The skull is smooth, the
brain-case proportionately very small, the snout much prolonged, while
the jaws have neither teeth nor soft movable lips. The shoulder-bones do
not resemble those of a mammal, but in some respects the scapular joint
of the bird; in other respects, that of the reptiles. The feet have five
toes, each armed with a long nail; and, in addition, the hind-feet are
provided with a perforated spur-like weapon, which is connected with a
gland. The genus derives its distinctive name from the circumstance that
the orifices of the urinary canals, the intestinal and the generative
canals, open, as in birds, into a common vent. The mammary glands, of
which only one exists on each side, are not furnished with nipples, but
open by simple slits on each side of the abdomen.

This order includes two families: the _Ornithorhynchidæ_ and the
_Echidnidæ_, both belonging to Australia and Tasmania. The former are
aquatic in their habits, the latter terrestrial.

The Echidna (_Echidna Hystrix_), or Porcupine Ant-Eater, resembles the
Porcupine in his general appearance and coat of spines, the Ant-Eater in
his snout, mouth, and long lubricated tongue. His legs are very short
and thick, and each is furnished with five broad rounded toes; the four
toes are armed with a long blunt claw, but on the hind-feet one toe is
without a claw, two are short and blunt, and one is of great length,
rather curved, and sharp pointed. He measures about twelve inches, and
all over the upper-parts of the body and tail is thickly beset with
formidable spines, very sharp and strong; over the head, legs, and
under-parts with bristly hair of a deep brown colour. His short tail is
covered with perpendicular spines. Digging up the ground with his keen
claws he disburies a host of insects, which he rolls over his long red
cylindrical tongue. He is very timid, and when any one approaches him,
coils himself up in a ball, like a hedgehog.

[Illustration: 1. Ornithorhynchus. 2. Echidna.]

The _Ornithorhynchus_ ("Bird-beaked"), or _Duck-Billed Platypus_, is
another extraordinary animal, which seems to serve as the connecting
link between the aquatic birds and the mammalia. His length is about
twenty inches; his body, long and flattened like an otter's, is covered
with a thick soft fur, moderately dark brown above and whitish beneath;
his tail is flat and obtuse; his feet are furnished with a membrane that
unites the toes; and he has an elongated, enlarged, and flattened muzzle
like a duck's beak. It is evident, therefore, that he can live only on
soft food, and that his habits must be aquatic; and hence we find him
burrowing in the banks of the streams, and groping for his food, like a
duck, among the mud and water. The settlers term him characteristically
"the River-Mole."

A word of allusion must now be permitted to the _Petrogale_, a genus of
the Kangaroo family, described by Dr. Gray. The Brush-tailed Rock
Wallaby (_P. penicillata_) has a rough long fur, of a dusky brown hue,
tinged with red and gray; a white streak passes down the middle of the
throat; his tail is very black, like a raven's plumage, long, and
furnished with thick hairs forming a brush. The male is about three feet
and a half long. Another species is called the Short-Eared Rock Kangaroo
(_P. brachiotis_). Both are excessively wild and shy in their habits,
frequenting in the day-time the most inaccessible rocks and the loftiest
mountain-peaks, and descending, at the approach of twilight, to feed in
the retired and grassy valleys. They flock together in such numbers as
to form well-beaten paths along the mountain-sides, and leap from crag
to crag with all the agility of the chamois.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Ornithological Fauna of Australia and the islands of Oceania is
incomparably richer than the Mammalogical Fauna, and includes several
species of the most dazzling plumage; but nearly all these species
inhabit the forests which cover a part of the littoral and probably of
the interior. However we must signalize, as peculiar to the Prairies, a
great number of the _Brevipennes_ (_i.e._, Short-wings), the Emu or Emeu
(_Dromaius Novæ Hollandiæ_); two Palmipeds, the Black Swan and the
Cereopsis; and, finally, a bird, the only one of its order, almost as
much of a paradox among bipeds as is the ornithorhynchus among
quadrupeds, the Apteryx.

The Emu is allied to the cassowary; he is nearly equal to the ostrich in
bulk, but has a thicker body, shorter legs, and a shorter neck. He
measures more than seven feet in length; his plumage exhibits a mixture
of brown and gray; his beak is black, his head covered with feathers; he
has real wings, though they are of so small a size as to be useless for
flight; they are covered with feathers like the rest of the body, from
which, when the bird is not in motion, they can hardly be discerned.
Internally, the emu differs, it is said, from all other species,
particularly in having no gizzard, and in the extremely small size of
his liver.

Emus are killed, according to Captain (now Sir George) Grey, in
precisely the same manner as kangaroos, but as they are more prized by
the natives, a greater degree of excitement prevails when an emu is
slain; shout succeeds shout, and the distant natives take up the cry
until it is sometimes re-echoed for miles. The feast which follows the
death, however, is a very exclusive one, for the flesh is much too
delicious to be made a common article of food. Heavy penalties are
accordingly pronounced against young men, and unauthorized persons, who
venture to touch it; and these, invariably, are rigidly enforced.[144]

Every schoolboy knows the famous quotation in his Latin grammar which
tells of a

    "Rara avis, simillimaque nigro cygno."

A _Black Swan_ is no longer a "rara avis." The species (_Cygnus
atratus_) belongs to New Holland and Tasmania, and is of the same size
as the common swan. His plumage is wholly black, with the exception of
the primary pens, which are white; his beak is red, and so is the
featherless skin surrounding it at the base. He has been successfully
acclimatized in Europe, and ornaments the lakes and streams of many
English parks.

The Cereopsis, or Cerefaced Goose, of New Holland, is a Palmiped genus,
about the size of a common goose, which, in general appearance, he
resembles, except that his legs are longer, averaging from two and a
half to three feet. The plumage is of a dingy gray. A large patch of
dull white occupies the top of the head; the quill-feathers, both of the
wings and tail, are of a dusty black. His voice has a hoarse deep clang,
like that of a storm-bell. He usually weighs from seven to ten pounds,
and makes an excellent dish for an Australian Christmas table.
Specimens may be seen both in the Zoological Gardens of London and
Paris.

[Illustration: APTERYX AUSTRALIS.]

The _Apteryx Australis_, or Wingless Emu--the _Kiwi_ of the New
Zealanders--somewhat resembles a penguin in form, and stands about two
feet in height. The only living specimen in Europe lives, I believe, in
the London Zoological Gardens. As it does not appear to rank, in
scientific classification, with any other family or genus, naturalists
have erected it into a distinct order--the _Nullipennes_, or Wingless.
The wings of the apteryx are literally rudiments; a mere stump,
terminated by a hook. None of his bones are hollow; he has no abdominal
air-cells; his feathers have no accessory plume; his feet have a short
and elevated hind-toe; his eyes are small; he feeds on insects; and his
habits are nocturnal. He is a bird of great physical power, and runs
with ostrich-like swiftness; taking refuge, when pursued, in burrows,
hollow trees, and the clefts of the rocks. His cry resembles a loud
whistle, and the natives entrap the bird by imitating it. When the
female has been taken, the male is easily caught, owing to his
reluctance to leave her. He will, however, defend himself vigorously
with his spurs.

The Erpetological Fauna of Australia, and, in general, of Oceania, is
very poor, and comprehends no great species. I may notice a genus of
lizards, the Chlamydosaurus, discovered by Allan Cunningham, the
naturalist attached to Captain King's expedition, about 1820. It
measures about seventeen inches in length, of which twelve inches are
apportioned to the tail; is of a yellowish-brown colour; has a large
head, with prominent eyes; and a membraneous ruff or tippet round its
neck, covering its shoulders, and when expanded spreading about five
inches in the form of an open umbrella. If attacked or terrified, it
elevates the frill or ruff and makes for a tree; where, if overtaken, it
throws itself upon a stem, raising its head and chest as high as it can
upon the fore-legs, then doubling its tail underneath the body, and
displaying a very formidable set of teeth from the concavity of its
large frill, it boldly faces any opponent, biting fiercely whatever is
presented to it, and even venturing so far in its rage as to fairly make
a fierce charge at its enemy.

Venomous serpents are numerous: particularly the _Hydrophis_, or
Water-Snake, very common in the neighbouring seas, where it feeds on
fishes. The back part of the body and tail being much compressed, and
vertically raised, endows it with the capacity of swimming.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]



BOOK IV.

_THE FORESTS._



CHAPTER I.

THE VIRGIN FORESTS.

                      "The noonday sun
    Now shone upon the Forest, one vast mass
    Of mingling shade....
                      Like restless serpents, clothed
    In rainbow and in fire, the parasites,
    Starred with ten thousand blossoms, flow around
    The gray trunks, and, as gamesome infants' eyes.
    With gentle meanings, and most innocent wiles,
    Fold their beams round the hearts of those that love,
    These twine their tendrils with the wedded boughs
    Uniting their close union; the woven leaves
    Make net-work of the dark blue light of day,
    And the night's noontide clearness, mutable
    As shapes in the weird clouds."
                         SHELLEY.


In all parts of the world some regions exist where, owing to a concourse
of favourable circumstances, the productive forces of Nature have been
able to manifest themselves with an exceptional energy--where vegetable
life, in particular, has acquired an extraordinary development. The rich
soil is covered, over more or less extensive areas, with vivacious
plants, robust and of great stature, which closely rooted, one against
another, with intertwining and overarching boughs, sustaining by their
bulk and shading with their foliage other and weaker plants, have formed
in the course of innumerable ages those masses of umbrageous gloom
called Forests.

These, undoubtedly, are one of the grandest and most impressive
monuments of the Creative Power; one, I may add, of the most eloquent,
for there is nothing in all Nature whose study better repays the
student, or which more largely abounds in important lessons.

The virgin forest, moreover, is one of the sanctuaries of Nature, where
her mysteries are seldom profaned by man. There life reveals itself, and
moves at liberty, under an infinite variety of forms. It is the asylum
of a multitude of animals of all classes, which find therein, united,
the two essential conditions of existence--shelter and nourishment.
Without the difficult approaches, the obscurity and the profound depth
of the forests, says a naturalist, what would become of the species of
mammals, birds, and reptiles, against which man wages incessant war?
Nature, then, seems to have provided these immense reservoirs to prevent
their species from being totally annihilated. Independently of the trees
which constitute the forests, a host of other plants make them their
exclusive _habitat_; thence the specific and eminently characteristic
names--such as _Sylvestris_, _Sylvaticus_, _Nemorosus_--imposed upon a
great number among them. Such plants are distinguished from their
congeners by the great dimensions of their stems; but, on the other
hand, they do not possess the brilliantly-coloured flowers which adorn
the plants of the mountains and the plains always exposed to the action
of the solar light.

The forests, moreover, offer for the botanist this remarkable and
singularly precious circumstance, that they form natural collections of
trees of the same species, or of several species of the same genus, or
at least of the same family; so that their limits circumscribe the
_habitat_ of these grand vegetables, and permit us to determine with
ease their geographical distribution.

[Illustration: THE VIRGIN FOREST OF THE GABOON.]

The forests fill an important function in the general economy of the
globe, by the influence which they exercise upon the mean temperature
and the other meteorological conditions of the regions they shelter. All
other things being equal, the temperature of well-wooded countries is
perceptibly less elevated and more uniform than that of dry and open
districts. The amount of humidity which is retained on the surface of
the soil by wide-spread woods is considerable; it results from the
lesser evaporation of the waters, the abundant transpiration of the
leaves, and the heavy rains which inundate the forests during the
tropical summer. Forests, like mountains, seem to attract the clouds. So
the plains which lie on their borders are ever better watered and
fertile than those whose horizon no obstacle encumbers.

Thus, then, in the forests, in this bright and beautiful world of
vegetation, most of the pleasures which man can derive from external
nature are garnered up, and most of the lessons he requires are written.
All kinds of precious grace and teaching, says Mr. Ruskin,[145] are
united in this link between the Earth and the Stars: wonderful in
universal adaptation to his need, desire, and discipline; God's daily
preparation of the earth for him, with beautiful means of life. "First,
a carpet to make it soft for him; then, a coloured fantasy of embroidery
thereon; then, tall spreading of foliage to shade him from sun heat, and
shade also the fallen rain, that it may not dry quickly back into the
clouds, but stay to nourish the springs among the moss. Stout wood to
bear this leafage: easily to be cut, yet tough and light, to make houses
for him, or instruments (lance-shaft, or plough handle, according to his
temper); useless it had been, if harder; useless, if less fibrous;
useless, if less elastic. Winter comes, and the shade of leafage falls
away, to let the sun warm the earth; the strong boughs remain, breaking
the strength of winter winds. The seeds which are to prolong the race,
innumerable according to the need, are made beautiful and palatable,
varied into infinitude of appeal to the fancy of man, or provision for
his service: cold juice, or glowing spice, or balm, or incense,
softening oil, preserving resin, medicine of styptic, febrifuge, or
lulling charm--and all these presented in forms of endless change.
Fragility and force, softness and strength, in all degrees of aspects;
unerring uprightness, as of temple pillars, or undivided wandering of
feeble tendrils on the ground; mighty resistances of rigid arm and limb
to the storms of ages, or wavings to and fro with faintest pulse of
summer streamlet. Roots cleaving the strength of rock, or binding the
transience of the sand; crests basking in sunshine of the desert, or
hiding by dripping spring and lightless cave; foliage for tossing in
entangled fields beneath every wave of ocean--clothing with variegated,
everlasting fibres, the peaks of the trackless mountains, or ministering
at cottage doors to every gentlest passion and simplest joy of
humanity."

Considered in their physiological aspect, it is evident that the forests
have played, from the remotest ages of our planet, a pre-eminently
useful part, by absorbing the carbonic acid with which the atmosphere
was surcharged, fixing the carbon, and restoring to the air a quantity
of oxygen sufficient for the support of animal life, impossible or
rudimentary previous to their creation. And they still serve to maintain
the chemical equilibrium of the atmosphere, by incessantly refeeding it
with the oxygen which the respiration of animals and the phenomena of
combustion have transformed into carbonic acid.

       *       *       *       *       *

Forests formerly abounded in Europe. In Gallia, Germania, Illyria,
Sarmatia, whole provinces were covered with immense woods of ancient and
patriarchal trees. Civilization has destroyed them in great part, and
often without discernment. At the present day few forests in Europe
remain untouched. They are rare in Western Asia, in Central Asia, and in
Northern Asia; rarer still in the Chinese empire, where the population
is denser than in any other country of the world, and where it is the
great object of the policy of the State that not a rood of land shall be
lost for the culture of plants valuable as food or for industrial
purposes. It is only to the south of the Himalaya Mountains, in the
still savage and scantily peopled regions of India and Indo-China, that
one sees the great vegetables of the Tropical Zone agglomerated in
compact masses of considerable extent.

In Africa, forests of any size or density only exist in the mountainous
countries and towards the western littoral; as, notably, in the Soudan,
the Senegal, in Guinea, at the Gaboon, and on the coasts of Angola and
Benguela. In North America, civilization has accomplished, in less than
three centuries, the work which in Europe occupied a much longer period.
The magnificent forests which spread their awful shades--their vast
luxuriance of gloom--over the surface of this continent have fallen
before the axe of the pioneer. Only at a few points is realized the fine
picture of the poet; only in a few untrodden recesses still flourishes
the primeval forest, where--

                        "The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
    Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
    Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
    Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms."[146]

When Captain Palliser's expedition attempted to reach the head waters of
the North Thompson from the sources of the North Saskatchewan River, the
leader encountered a forest-growth so dense, and so encumbered with
fallen timber, that it proved an insurmountable obstacle. Viscount
Milton and Mr. Cheadle, in their adventurous journey across the Rocky
Mountains to British Columbia, were involved in one of these
wildernesses, and with difficulty effected a passage. "No one," they
remark,[147] "who has not seen a primeval forest, where trees of
gigantic size have grown and fallen undisturbed for ages, can form any
idea of the collection of timber, or the impenetrable character of such
a region. There were pines and thujas of every size--the patriarch of
300 feet in height standing alone, or thickly-clustering groups of young
ones struggling for the vacant place of some prostrate giant. The fallen
trees lay piled around, forming barriers often six or eight feet high on
every side: trunks of huge cedars, moss-grown and decayed, lay
half-buried in the ground on which others as mighty had recently fallen;
trees still green and living, recently blown down, blocking the view
with the walls of earth held in their matted roots; living trunks, dead
trunks, rotten trunks; dry, barkless trunks, and trunks moist and green
with moss; bare trunks, and trunks with branches--prostrate, reclining,
horizontal, propped up at different angles; timber of every size, in
every stage of growth and decay, in every possible position, entangled
in every possible combination. The swampy ground was densely covered
with American dog-wood, and elsewhere with thickets of the aralea, a
tough-stemmed trailer, with leaves as large as those of the
rhubarb-plant, and growing in many places as high as a man's shoulders.
Both stem and leaves are covered with sharp spines, which pierce your
clothes as you force your way through the tangled growth, and make the
legs and hands of the pioneers scarlet from the inflammation of myriads
of punctures."

Far grander the scene, however--far richer in form and colour--which
meets our gaze in the stupendous forest growth still covering the basins
of the Amazon and the Orinoco. As a companion to the foregoing picture,
we borrow one of this brighter and more wonderful region as painted with
equal truth and vigour by Mr. Bates:--[148]

"The ground was thickly carpeted with Lycopodiums,[149] but it was also
encumbered with masses of vegetable _débris_ and a thick coating of dead
leaves. Fruits of many kinds were scattered about, amongst which were
numerous species of beans, some of the pods a foot long, flat and
leathery in texture, others hard as stone. In one place might be seen a
quantity of large empty wooden vessels; such they appeared to be, but in
reality they had fallen from the Sapucaya tree. They are called
_Monkey's Drinking-cups_ (Cuyas de Macaco), and are the capsules of the
nuts sold under this appellation in Covent Garden Market. The top of the
vessel is pierced with a circular hole, in which a natural lid fits
easily. When the nuts ripen this lid becomes loosened, and down falls
the heavy shell with a crash, scattering the nuts over the ground. The
tree[150] which bears this extraordinary burthen is of immense height.
It is closely allied to the Brazil-nut tree,[151] whose seeds are
likewise enclosed in large wooden vessels, but these are without lids,
and fall entire to the ground. It is at least 120 feet high, and rises
to the noble stature of 100 feet before it throws off any branches. From
twelve to twenty of these sweet edible nuts lie in a pod. The monkeys
are very partial to them, and will patiently sit for hours hammering at
a capsule with a stone, in order to open it; and as soon as they have
succeeded, the on-lookers rush to the spot, to purloin as many as they
can. The natives assail the quarreling party with stones, a proceeding
which incites the monkeys to revenge themselves by a discharge of nuts.
By this means the Indians load their boats without trouble, and the
monkeys are left to make a fresh foray."

In his forest wanderings, Mr. Bates was especially attracted by the
colossal trees. He says that, on the whole, they had not remarkably
thick stems; the great and uniform height to which they grow without
throwing off a branch is a much more noticeable feature than their
thickness; but at intervals he paused before a veritable giant. Only one
of these huge patriarchs of the woods can flourish within a given space;
it monopolizes the domain, and none but humble individuals can nestle
within its shadow. The cylindrical trunks of these larger trees were
generally about twenty to twenty-five feet in circumference. Von
Martius, another Brazilian traveller, mentions having measured trees in
the Pará district, belonging to various species (Symphonia coccinea,
Lecythis spirula, and Cratæva Tapia), which were fifty to sixty feet in
girth at the point where they become cylindrical! The height of the vast
column-like stems could not be less than 100 feet from the ground to
their lowest branch. The total height of the Pao d'Ano[152] and the
Massaranduba, stem and crown together, may be computed at from 180 to
200 feet. Where one of them stands, the vast canopy of leafiness rises
above the other forest trees like a domed cathedral above the minor
buildings of a city.

A very curious feature in these trees is the growth of buttress-shaped
projections around the lower part of their stems. The spaces between
these buttresses, which may be compared to thin walls of wood, form
spacious chambers, like stalls in a stable; some of them large enough to
hold half-a-dozen persons. "The purpose of these structures," says Mr.
Bates, "is as obvious at the first glance, as that of the similar props
of brickwork which support a high wall. They are not peculiar to one
species, but are common to most of the larger forest trees. Their nature
and manner of growth are explained when a series of young trees of
different ages is examined. It is then seen that they are the roots,
which have raised themselves ridge-like out of the earth; growing
gradually upwards as the increasing height of the tree required
augmented support. Thus they are plainly intended to sustain the massive
crown and trunk in these crowded forests, where lateral growth of the
roots in the earth is rendered difficult by the number of competitors."

Among other remarkable inhabitants of the Brazilian wilderness, we may
name the lofty Moira-tingu,[153] the Samaüma,[154] and the Massaranduba
or Cow tree.[155] The Eriodendron Samaüma, or Silk-cotton tree, holds in
the New World the same position as the Bombax in the Old. It rises to an
enormous stature without branches, and then spreads out a glorious mass
of foliage. The bark is light in colour; and the capsule pod contains a
large quantity of down, of a brown tint, and exquisite silky softness.
The Massaranduba is also called the Palo de Vacca, the Arbor de Lacte,
the Galactodendron utile, or the Cow tree. Its bark furnishes an
abundant supply of milk as pleasant to drink as that of the cow. If
exposed to the air it thickens into a glue, which is excessively
tenacious, and often employed to cement broken crockery. The tree has a
wild, strange appearance, owing to its deeply scored, reddish, and
rugged bark, a decoction of which is used as a red dye for cloth.

Did our readers ever hear of the Pashiúba, or bulging-stemmed palm?[156]
It is not one of the tallest kinds, for its height, when full grown,
seldom exceeds forty feet; the leaves are somewhat less drooping, and
the leaflets broader, than in other species; but if less beautiful, it
is, perhaps, far more remarkable. Its roots grow above ground, radiating
from the trunk at an elevation of ten or twelve feet, so that the tree
seems to be supported on stilts; and when it is old, a person can stand
upright amongst the roots with the perpendicular stem wholly above his
head! About midway, this stem bulges out in a circular swelling, which
gives it its distinctive name. The roots closely resemble straight rods,
but they are studded with stout thorns, whilst the trunk of the Pashiúba
is perfectly smooth.

It is in the vast primeval forests of Central and Southern America, and
in the leafy wildernesses of the great East Indian islands--Borneo,
Sumatra, Java, Madagascar--that man may still contemplate in all its
savage majesty the prodigious Flora of the Tropics. These, too, are the
haunts of many remarkable animals--mammals, and birds, and
reptiles--which are there comparatively safe from the pitiless
persecution of the hunter and the trapper.

To obtain an idea--which, however, can only be very vague and
imperfect--of the strange and imposing spectacle and the unexpected
scenes which at every step astonish the traveller in the great Tropical
woodlands, we must study the descriptions of those few but richly
endowed adventurers who, after exploring them with the enlightened
curiosity of science, have been able to embody the results in language
worthy of the subject.

In the foremost rank of those who have possessed the twofold
qualification of scientific knowledge and descriptive power, we must
place the illustrious Humboldt. His works are a rich storehouse from
which later writers have freely borrowed the materials of their essays.
In reference to the phrases " Virgin Forest," "Primeval Forest," he has
some judicious observations:--Ought we to call, he says, by either of
these appellations every kind of wild thick wood, encumbered with
vigorous trees, upon which man has never laid his destructive hand? In
that case they would be appropriate in a number of very different
countries, under the Temperate, ay, and even under the Frigid Zone. But
if we intend them to designate the impenetrability of an almost
boundless forest, the impossibility of clearing a path with the
pioneer's axe between serried ranks of trees, not one of which is less
than from eight to ten feet in diameter, such virgin forests belong
exclusively to tropical regions. We must not believe, however, according
to the ordinary story in Europe, in the creeping parasitical lianas
which, by the interlacement and entanglement of their branches, render
the equatorial forests impenetrable. The lianas form but a comparatively
insignificant portion of the underwood. The principal obstacle is found
in the arborescent plants, which leave not a space uncovered, and this,
too, in a country where all vegetables spreading over the soil become
ligneous. If a traveller, as soon as he arrives in a tropical clime,
whether in the continent or the islands, believes, even before he has
penetrated inland, that he is transported to the heart of the virgin
forests, his error simply originates in his impatience to realize a
long-cherished desire. All Tropical forests are not virgin forests.

The true virgin forests, notwithstanding the recent explorations of
Wallace, Bates, and Agassiz, are very imperfectly known; because it is,
in truth, perfectly impossible to survey them in every direction, on
account of their vast extent and astonishing impenetrability. When we
are told by the traveller that he opened for himself a path with his
trusty hatchet, we readily understand that he achieved his boasted
victory in places where the obstacles were reduced to feeble lianas and
brushwood of no great density, and that he turned aside from the massive
barriers formed by the closely-planted trunks of colossal trees. Than
these mighty vegetable Anakim, nothing, says a naturalist, is more
imperfectly known in botany. The stems of most being bare and branchless
up to a considerable height, their fructification is frequently beyond
the reach of man. In vain would he level them by their base: their
summits remain suspended by the inter-tanglement of the neighbouring
summits, and like so many Tantaluses, our travellers see themselves
shunned by the fruits which their eyes devour. The rivers, those "tracks
which march" through the leafy, woody depths, and the tortuous paths
trodden down by generations of wild beasts in their quest after new
pastures, after fresh hunting-grounds, or fountains to slake their
thirst, are the only roads which can be pursued by the explorer.

[Illustration: THE VIRGIN FOREST IN BRAZIL.]

As far as concerns their botanical composition, the virgin forests of
the Tropics are distinguished from those of cold and temperate regions
by general characters which it will, perhaps, be useful to indicate. If,
for example, we adopt as our standard of comparison the European forest,
we there remark, in the first place, the complete absence of trees
belonging to the important groups of Acotyledons and Monocotyledons,
and, in consequence, of the superb palms and elegant arboreal ferns of
tropical countries. Or, considering only the Dicotyledonous plants, we
see again that, in lands bordering on the Equator, there is scarcely a
family of this class which does not furnish its contingent of woody
plants, offering most frequently, with forms of infinite variety,
clearly displayed and brilliant flowers, remarkable either for their
beauty or their fragrance,--

    "Sweet as Sabæan odours from the shores
     Of Araby the Blest;"

while our trees are comprised in a small number of natural groups, and
present in general very opposite features; as, for instance, an almost
uniform character or aspect, and flowers scarcely visible and of little
elegance.

It suffices to name the families of the Coniferæ and the Amentaceæ,
which compose the greater portion of the Flora of our forests. Moreover,
as Humboldt observes, in the Temperate Zone, particularly in Europe and
the north of Asia, certain species of trees (_plantæ sociales_) grow
together, and form of themselves forests which we may designate by their
specific name. In the forests of oaks, firs, and birches which cover the
countries of the North, in the forests of limes of the East, one unique
species of Amentaceæ, Coniferæ, or Tiliaceæ generally prevails. This
uniform society is foreign to the Tropical forests. The infinite variety
of flowers which expand in these _Hylææ_ do not permit us to ask of what
the virgin forests are composed. An innumerable quantity of different
families stand side by side; even in the most confined spaces it is rare
to see trees of the same nature re-united. Every day, as the traveller
advances, he discovers new forms; oftentimes the outline of the leaf and
the ramification of a tree attract his attention, without his being able
to distinguish the flowers.

There is yet another feature, more striking still, and more general than
those previously mentioned, which broadly distinguishes the arborescent
vegetation of the Tropics from that of northern climates. Here the
plants, exposed annually to an often intense degree of cold which lasts
for several months, experience a kind of suspension of their vital
activity, cease to flower and to fructify, and entirely shed their
foliage; the resinous species are the only exceptions to this rule. In
the neighbourhood of the Equator, on the contrary, it is during the
hottest, driest season that vegetation suffers; then the herbaceous
plants and bushes of the plains die down; but the great trees of the
virgin forests are hardly affected; their foliage incessantly renews
itself; their branches are at all times loaded with fruits and flowers,
and to the wayfarer's eyes they present the glorious spectacle of an
eternal freshness, of a life which never wanes.

Compared with these great points of difference, common to all the virgin
forests of the Tropics, the peculiar features resulting from the
botanical constitution which distinguishes more or less exactly one
region from another, have, as the reader will understand, but a
secondary importance.

With the exception of a few countries which possess a Flora _sui
generis_--such, for example, as Madagascar and Australia--the same
aspects, the same general forms are almost everywhere reproduced.

More distinctive differences may be remarked, at the first glance, in
the animal life which peoples the forests of the different quarters of
the world; but yet these animals everywhere display the same habits. The
great majority of the insects and the birds, the apes, the squirrels,
and, in general, all the arboreal animals, awake and put themselves in
motion at the first glimpse of day, and animate the forest with their
murmurs, their songs, their utterances, their lively sports and
frolicsome gambols.

I borrow from the entertaining pages of an English traveller the
following description of the diurnal cycle of phenomena which revolves
in the depths of a virgin forest.[157]

In the early dawn the sky is invariably cloudless; the heavy dew or the
previous night's rain, which lay on the moist foliage, becoming quickly
dissipated by the glowing sun, which, rising straight out of the east,
mounts rapidly towards the zenith. All nature is fresh, new leaves and
flower-buds expanding rapidly. Some mornings a single tree will appear
in flower amidst what was the preceding evening a uniform green mass of
forest--a dome of blossom suddenly created as if by magic. The birds are
all active; from the wild fruit trees, not far off, we hear the shrill
yelping of the Tucano (_Ramphastos vitellinus_). Small flocks of parrots
flow over on most mornings at a great height, appearing in distinct
relief against the blue sky, always two by two chattering to each other,
the pairs being separated by regular intervals. Their bright colours,
however, are not discernible at such a height.

Towards two o'clock the heat rapidly increases, and every voice of bird
or mammal grows hushed; only in the trees sounds at intervals the harsh
whirr of a cicada. The leaves, so moist and fresh in early morning, now
become lax and drooping; the flowers shed their petals. On most days in
June or July a heavy shower will fall some time in the afternoon,
producing a most welcome coolness. The approach of the rain clouds takes
place after a uniform fashion very interesting to observe. First, the
cool sea-breeze, which commenced to blow about ten o'clock, and which
increases in force with the increasing power of the sun, flags, and
finally dies away. The heat and electric tension of the atmosphere then
grows almost insupportable. Languor and uneasiness seize on every one;
even the denizens of the forest betraying it by their motions. White
clouds rising in the east gather into cumuli, with an increasing
blackness along their lower portions. The whole eastern horizon becomes
almost suddenly black, and this darkness spreads upwards, obscuring the
"orb of day."

Then through the forest hurtles a mighty wind, swaying the lofty
tree-tops; a vivid flash of lightning bursts forth, then breaks a crash
of thunder, and down streams the deluging rain. Such storms soon cease,
leaving bluish-black motionless clouds in the sky until night. Meantime
all nature is refreshed; but heaps of flower-leaves and fallen petals
lie under the trees. Towards evening life revives again, and the ringing
uproar is resumed from bush and tree. The following morning the sun
again rises in a cloudless sky, and so the cycle is completed; spring,
summer, and autumn, as it were, in one tropical day. The days are more
or less like this throughout the year in this country. A little
difference exists between the dry and wet seasons; but generally the dry
season, which lasts from July to December, is varied with showers; and
the wet, from January to June, with sunny days.

"It results from this," says Mr. Bates, "that the periodical phenomena
of plants and animals do not take place at about the same time in all
species, or in the individuals of any given species, as they do in
temperate countries. Of course there is no hybernation, nor, as the dry
season is not excessive, is there any summer torpidity as in some
tropical countries. Plants do not flower or shed their leaves, nor do
birds moult, pair, or breed simultaneously. In Europe, a woodland scene
has its spring, its summer, its autumnal, and its winter aspects. In the
equatorial forests the aspect is the same, or nearly so, every day in
the year--budding, flowering, fruiting, and leaf-shedding are always
going on in one species or other. The activity of birds and insects
proceeds without interruption, each species having its own separate
times. The colonies of wasps, for instance, do not die off annually,
leaving only the queens, as in cold climates; but the succession of
generations and colonies goes on incessantly. It is never either spring,
summer, or autumn, but each day is a combination of all three. With the
day and night always of equal length, the atmospheric disturbances of
each day neutralizing themselves before each succeeding morn; with the
sun in its course proceeding mid-way across the sky, and the daily
temperature the same within two or three degrees throughout the year,
how grand in its perfect equilibrium and simplicity is the march of
Nature under the equator!"

Now night comes on, not, as in temperate climes, with a hush and a
silence that are almost breathless, but with a thousand strange and
formidable sounds. In Asia, in Africa, in America, as well as in the
great islands of the Pacific Ocean, the forests and the savannahs
re-echo all night with discordant cries. The branches are torn down with
a crash as the beasts of prey sweep past, and earth resounds beneath
their headlong steps. It is no longer the gay, fresh movement of happy
life which in the golden noon of day converts the forest into a
veritable Eden; it is the rush to and fro of scattered animals, pressed
by hunger and thirst, either in flight or pursuit; it is the roar of
rage or the wail of agony; it is, in a word, the mêlée of sharpened
appetites; it is the "Witches' Sabbath" of the savage world, at which no
European, however hardened by the perils of an adventurous career, can
be present for the first time without experiencing a deep emotion of
melancholy and apprehension.



CHAPTER II.

VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE FORESTS OF THE OLD WORLD.


I do not think that in all Europe, nor, indeed, in the entire Temperate
Zone of the Old World, exists such an agglomeration of plants and trees
as may merit the appellation of "primeval" or "virgin forest." At all
events, this forest, if it really exists, will assuredly be composed of
the very trees which we see every day in our own woods, our fields, our
parks, and even in our towns, and which have long ceased to awaken in
us the idea of wild nature. With the woods of Great Britain, France, or
Spain we are all familiar:--

                            "The beam
    Of noon is broken there by chestnut boughs
    Down the steep verdant sides; the air
    So freshened by the leaping stream, which throws
    Eternal showers of spray on the mossed roots
    Of trees, and veins of turf, and long dark shoots
    Of ivy-plants, and fragrant hanging bells
    Of hyacinths, and on late anemones
    That muffle its wet banks."[158]

Our poets have sung of the murmurous groves of pines, and the deep dark
beech-woods that clothe with shadows the rounded forms of the
chalk-hills, and the long alleys of blossoming chestnut, fragrant lime,
or sombre yew. Therefore, without losing valuable time in these familiar
shades, without pausing before the oak which the history of a thousand
years has made immortal, let us rapidly traverse the Corsican forests,
where among the twisted leaves of the elms flourishes the gigantic
Larician pine; those of Greece, where thrive the pines of Cephalonia and
Apollo, and the oaks sacred also to the divinity of Delphi and
Dodona--those oaks, dumb to-day, which formerly gave utterance to
oracles not less reverend than those of the Pythoness. We will not even
suffer ourselves to be delayed among the forests of Eastern Europe, of
Asia Minor, and of Persia, where dominate such species as the pine, the
beech, and the chestnut. It is not until we have crossed the Indus--that
mighty river on whose banks halted the legions of Alexander--that the
exuberant vegetation of the Tropical world breaks upon us in all its
glorious verdure and prodigious richness, though confined to a
comparatively limited area.

The wooded region of the western Ghauts, from Goa to Cape Camorin,
exhibits the greatest abundance of plants peculiar to Southern Asia.

[Illustration: TROPICAL VEGETATION.

1. Calamus Rotang.
2. Bamboos.
3. Borassus flabelliformis.
4. Diospyros ebenum.]

To form an idea of the variety and potency of the Flora of this region,
says M. Lanoye,[159] we must contemplate the specimens immured in our
European gardens, and augment tenfold their etiolated proportions; we
must bring together, in the dazzling confusion of Nature, the Mimosas,
the Musas, the odorous Screw-pines, the Mangoes, and the Orange trees;
twine around their trunks the many-branched stems of the Bignonias, the
Nagatelly, the Dictantes-Sambas, and the Lianas which furnish pepper and
the betel-nut; group under their shade the most beautiful varieties of
Azaleas, Jasmines, and Gardenias; unite those Laurels whence we extract
camphor, cassia, and cinnamon, with the red Santul, the Nopals, and the
Dragon trees which supply the costly gum-lacs; the Shrubs which give us
spikenard, cardamoms, and amome, with those Canes which secrete sugar.
Above these masses of flowers, above these sources of honey and perfume,
we must next display the immense leaves of the Talipot and the
Bourbon-palm, must spread in undulations the aërial palm-crests of the
Cocoa-nut and the gigantic Bamboo; must accumulate the sombre verdure of
the Teaks and the Tamarinds, and the impenetrable branches of the
consecrated Pines. Then, all this being accomplished, we shall still
have but a vague and colourless perception of the Indian Flora, and
notably of that which clothes the base of the Western Ghauts to the east
and to the south of the city of Goa.

The difficulty of picturing to ourselves the entirety of so glorious and
rich a scene reveals the impossibility of seizing all its details, of
studying one by one all its elements. Our attention, however, will be
arrested by a small number of species remarkable above all others by
their extraordinary dimensions, the elegance of their bearing, the
beauty of their flowers and foliage, or by some peculiar and destructive
property.

We notice in the first place several trees whose close relationship
cannot be mistaken to the date trees which we have already met with in
the open Desert, and which, we may remember, constituted the entire
wealth of the inhabitants of the oases. We find representatives of the
immense family of palms in every tropical country, and even in the coral
islands of the great ocean. India possesses several species. I shall
refer only to the _Borassus flabelliformis_, whose trunk, 90 to 120
feet in height, is surmounted by a crown of great fan-shaped leaves,
folded longitudinally in their first half, cut in the other, and
sustained by prickly supports. The other half is made use of by the
Hindus in the shape of paper, or rather tablets, on which they write
with the point of a stylet. The spadices (clustered flowers), if incised
before reaching maturity, yield a liquid which, after fermentation,
forms the favourite Indian beverage of "palm wine."

The Bamboo, the most gigantic of the tropical Gramineæ, is plentifully
distributed over India, Indo-China, and China, where it frequently
flourishes in considerable masses. In height it equals the loftiest
palms. Its culm is smooth, glittering, straight, and flexible, of a
beautiful yellow colour, and regularly intersected by annular rings
marked by so many brown streaks. It wavers gently to and fro with the
impulse of the wind, as if to refresh with its breath the light
undulating foliage.

Almost innumerable are the services which this heaven-sent plant renders
to the inhabitants of the countries where it flourishes. In hedges or
plantations it forms around their abodes a formidable defence. With its
stems sawn either in accordance with their diameter, or split
longitudinally, the natives not only fabricate a host of utensils and
articles of furniture, but build their barks and construct their houses.
They extract from the spaces between the joints of the young plant a
feculent substance which supplies them with an agreeable nutriment,
analogous to _sago_. A saccharine juice flows spontaneously from the
joints formed by the knots; when fermented it becomes alcoholic and
heady like hydromel. The bamboo also proves serviceable in the
manufacture of mats and cordage. The slender stems are split into thin
strips, which are probably softened in water. These strips, woven
together, form mats or carpets of extreme solidity.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Banana,[160] like the Bamboo and most of the palms, is a
cosmopolitan plant throughout the tropic world. Its native habitat is
supposed to be Asia. The Oriental Christians have a tradition that this
tree, which they call the _Lignum Vitæ_, was that whose fruit was
forbidden to our first parents. Hence the name of _Musa paradisiaca_,
given by botanists to one of the two species of the genus; the other is
the Banana of the wise men, _Musa sapientum_. However this may be, it is
certain that if the use of the banana was at any time interdicted to
man, the prohibition has been annulled for many generations; and its
fruits form one of the most wholesome and most general articles of food
in tropical countries. Although the wild banana maintains its place
honourably in the forests of these regions, it is not a tree, but an
herbaceous plant. It propagates itself through its suckers, and its stem
perishes immediately after fructification. Its mode of vegetation is
analogous to that of the Liliaceæ. From a bulbous and fleshy platform
issue, beneath, its fibrous roots; above, enormous leaves, often nearly
a yard wide and two to three yards long. The petioles of these leaves
are adhesive. By folding themselves one over another, and successively
drying up, they grow into a stem which sometimes attains the dimensions
of the trunk of an ordinary tree (about seven feet) and the stature of
twelve to sixteen feet, and which is traversed throughout its centre by
a stalk springing from the bulb. This stalk rises again several inches
above the terminal leaf, then bends, sinks towards the ground, and
terminates in a stem which carries at its extremity the male flowers,
and at its base the female flowers, then the fruit. The latter,
collected in clusters of twelve to fourteen, are elongated, of a
prismatic triangular form, enveloped in a rind, green at first, then
yellow, and internally consist of a soft, feculent, sugary pulp, very
nutritious, and agreeable to the taste.

In its native clime the banana is born, grows, flourishes, fructifies,
and dies in the space of twelve or eighteen months. In the climates most
akin to ours, and in our European gardens, its development is not only
on a smaller scale, but occupies a longer period, and it has been known
to reach the age of ten or a dozen years.

[Illustration: THE BANYAN TREE (_Ficus Indica_).]

By the side of these weak-stemmed plants, with their soft and spongy
contexture, grow hosts of robust trees, whose timber is compact and
sometimes exceedingly hard, and whose branches are of immense span. My
readers will probably remember the lines in which Southey so admirably
describes one of the most majestic and most singular of these: the
Banyan, or Indian Fig-tree (_Ficus Indica_),[161] also designated the
"Multiplying Fig-tree," the "Admirable Fig-tree," and "Tree of Life."
The passage will bear transcription:[162]--

          "It was a goodly sight to see
              That venerable tree,
        For o'er the lawn, irregularly spread,
    Fifty straight columns propped its lofty head;
          And many a long depending shoot
              Seeking to strike its root,
    Straight, like a plummet, grew towards the ground.
    Some on the lower boughs, which crossed their way,
    Fixing their bearded fibres, round and round,
    With many a ring and wild contortion wound;
    Some to the passing wind, at times with sway
              Of gentle motion swung;
    Others of younger growth, unmoved, were hung
    Like stone-drops from the cavern's fretted height.
          Beneath was smooth and fair to sight,
    Nor weeds nor briars deformed the natural floor;
    And through the leafy cope which bowered it o'er,
          Came gleams of chequered light."

The Banyan surpasses in diameter the finest oaks of Europe, and throws
off numerous branches, of which several redescend towards the earth,
force their way into it, take root therein, and in their turn develop
into new trunks, whence spring other boughs that go through the same
process of fructification; so that a single stem spreads in time into a
kind of forest, and the canopy formed by the outgrowth of a solitary
tree will frequently overshadow an area of 1700 square yards.

The evergreen foliage of this beautiful tree forms an immense vault,
which has justly been compared to the domed roof of a stately edifice
supported by a host of columns. Here a myriad birds raise their songs of
joy; underneath, the weary pilgrim finds a delightful asylum; from
branch to branch leap the mocking ape and the nimble squirrel. The
Hindus hold their "Pagod tree" in great veneration. It is to them one of
the emblems of their god Siva, and in its dense deep shade they assemble
to celebrate their sacrificial rites, whether in honour of this potent
deity, or whether in honour of Ganesha, a rural divinity, analogous in
his attributes to the Pan of the Greeks and Latins.

Several other tropical trees possess, like the banyan, the property of
producing adventitious roots which spring from the trunk or branches
which implant themselves in the soil; but not one enjoys an equal power
of reproduction and multiplication.

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the greatest trees of southern Asia, and possibly one of the
greatest in the world, is the Teak or Indian Oak (_Tectona grandis_),
which covers vast areas of ground in Hindostan. It flourishes also in
Pegu, Ava, Siam, Java, and the Burman Empire. It works easily, and
though porous, is permanent and strong; is readily seasoned, and shrinks
but little; is of an oleaginous character, and therefore does not
corrode iron. It is as strong as oak, and more buoyant. Its durability
is more uniform and decided; and to insure that durability it needs less
care and preparation; for it may be taken into use almost green from the
forest, without danger of dry or wet rot. It will endure all climates
and all alternations of climate.[163]

The teak of Malabar, grown on the high table-lands in the south of
India, is esteemed the best, because it is the heaviest, the most
durable, contains the most oil, and is the closest in its fibre. Next in
quality ranks that of Java, and inferior to these in some respects is
the teak of Burmah, Rangoon, and Siam; which, however, is the most
buoyant, and the best fitted for masts and spars.

African teak, let me note, is not teak properly so called, but the
timber of the _Oldfieldia Africana_. It is largely imported from the
west coast of Africa, and though an useful wood, lacks the most valuable
properties of the genuine teak.

The teak is a handsome and even stately tree, often attaining the noble
stature of 130 to 150 feet, with a trunk of proportionate diameter,
upright, well-shaped, and surmounted by wide-spread branches. Its large
leaves are oval, of a velvety under-surface, and besprinkled on the
upper with whitish spots. Its flowers cluster at the extremity of the
branch in an ample and beautiful panicle. The poisonous properties of
its wood preserve it from the attacks of vermin, but render it dangerous
to work, for men who are but lightly wounded by its splinters die after
a very brief interval.

A less useful timber than the teak, but much esteemed for the
manufacture of articles of luxury, is furnished by the _Diospyros
ebenum_ and the _Santalum album_.

In the Flora of tropical Asia a very important position is occupied by
the Laurel family. Several species of this family deserve to be
particularized on account of their commercial value: thus, from the
_Laurus camphora_ comes the camphor most esteemed by British physicians,
while the aromatic rinds of the _Laurus cinnamomum_, _Culilawan_,
_Malabathrum_, and _Cassia_, constitute the various kinds of cinnamon.
The _Laurus cassia_ is not to be confounded with another Indian tree,
one of the Leguminosæ, the _Cassia fistula_, whose enormous cods
formerly played an important rôle under the name of Cassia in
therapeutic science. While speaking of trees which produce aromatic
substances, I must not forget to mention the _Styrax benzoïn_, and the
_Boswellia serrata_. The former is a member of the family _Styracaceæ_,
whose trees or shrubs, chiefly tropical, are known by their monopetalous
flowers, their epipetalous stamens, their long radicle, leafy
cotyledons, and by a part at least of the ovules being suspended. The
_Styrax benzoïn_, a native of the Indian islands, yields the resin
called benzoin. The juice exudes from incisions made in the bark, and
when dried, is removed by a knife or chisel. Each tree yields about
three pounds' weight annually, the gum formed during the first three
years being superior in quality to that which subsequently exudes. It is
largely employed by perfumers, and in medicine is esteemed a remedy for
chronic pulmonary disorders. _Styrax officinale_, a native of the
Levant, furnishes the balsamic resinous substance known as storax, which
is also one of the materials manipulated by perfumers, and in medicine
is used as a stimulating expectorant.

The _Boswellia serrata_ supplies the fragrant incense whose vapours were
anciently supposed to be peculiarly agreeable to the gods made by man's
hands or conceived by his imagination.

India is also the native country and home-land of the Indigo plants
(_Indigofera tinctoria_, and _Indigofera anil_, of the Leguminosæ
family), and the _Gossypiums_, from whose expanded fruits is obtained
the all-powerful cotton; and in Cochin-China we meet with the _Croton
sebiferum_ or _Stillingia sebifera_ (family of the Euphorbiaceæ), whose
berries contain a rich concrete substance called "tree-tallow,"
employed, in the far East, in the manufacture of tapers. The latter
tree, popularly known as the "Tallow Tree," has rhomboid leaves, with
two prominent glands at the point of attachment between the stalk and
the leaf; and its flower catkins are from two to four inches long. "Its
fruits contain three seeds thickly coated with a fatty substance which
yields the tallow. This is obtained by steaming the seeds in large
caldrons, and then bruising them sufficiently to loosen the fat without
breaking the seeds, which are removed by sifting. The fat is afterwards
made into flat circular cakes, and pressed in a wedge-press, when the
pure tallow exudes in a liquid state, and soon hardens into a white
brittle mass. This tallow is very extensively used for candle-making in
China; but as the candles made of it become soft in hot weather, they
generally receive a coating of insect wax. A liquid oil is obtained from
the seeds by pressing. The tree yields a hard wood used by the Chinese
for printing blocks, and its leaves are employed for dyeing black."[164]

Climbing and epiphytous[165] plants are very numerous in India; but
there are none, perhaps, which in vegetative force and tenacity can be
compared to those of the _Calamus_, and particularly of the _Calamus
rotang_ (family of the _Palmaceæ_). These Lianas are all remarkable for
their flexible stem, which attaches itself to the trees, and frequently
attains the prodigious length of 200, 250, 300, and even 350 yards. This
stem is formed of a series of internodes, or jointed pieces, more or
less wide apart, each of which bears a leathery flower, with elongated
sheath. The Calami frequently render the forests which they inhabit
virtually impenetrable, through their long, flexible, and tenacious
arms, stretching across from tree to tree, or crawling over the ground,
and bristling with formidable thorns. It is these stems which are
imported into Europe as bamboos, cut into different lengths, and there
employed for various industrial purposes.

But it is time we took our leave of India, and allowed "observation with
extensive view" to survey the far-spreading African forests. There, in
the first place, we are called upon to salute the patriarch of the
tropical Flora, the _Baobab_ (_Adansonia digitata_), a gigantic genus of
the family _Bombaceæ_.

[Illustration: 1. Baobab. 2. Elæis Guinensis, or Guinea Palm. 3. Acacia
verek.]

This colossus of the vegetable world was discovered in Senegal by the
French botanist Adanson, in 1749. He measured the trunks of several
individuals, and found them from 65 to 78 feet in circumference, with
mighty branches, each of which was equal to a great oak or magnificent
chestnut. One baobab he computed at 90 feet in girth, and its rounded
crest extended over an area of upwards of 170 yards in circuit. A root
which was exposed to view, through the washing away of the superjacent
soil, measured 110 feet in length. Adanson estimated the age of some of
these Anakim of trees at 1500 years. They were just shooting above the
ground, if this reckoning be true, at the time that Constantine, the
first Christian emperor, removed the seat of empire from Rome to
Constantinople.

There are other gigantic trees in the forests of Senegambia, as, for
instance, the _Khaya Senegalensis_, which rears its crest to a height of
50 or 60 yards, whose hard reddish-coloured timber belongs to the
species known in commerce under the name of _Mahogany_. Another kind of
mahogany, but less valuable, called Senegal Mahogany, is furnished by
the _Swietenia Senegalensis_ (family of _Meliaceæ_, tribe of
_Cedrelaceæ_), named after Baron von Swieten, a Dutch botanist. It forms
a stately tree, some 60 or 80 feet high. _Swietenia Mahogani_, a native
of the warmer regions of America and the West Indies, yields the
mahogany of commerce. The first discovery of the existence of this kind
of wood is ascribed to the carpenter on board Sir Walter Raleigh's
vessel, when lying off Trinidad in 1595. It is not considered to reach
perfection under the venerable age of two hundred years. The seeds
prepared with oil are used by the modern Mexicans, as they were by the
ancient Aztecs, for cosmetic purposes; and the bark is considered a
febrifuge.

Among the most curious trees of the Senegal, whose Flora has quite a
character of its own, travellers have singled out the Butter Tree
(_Bassia butyracea_, family of the _Sapotaceæ_), whose fruits contain an
edible fatty substance, used by the natives as a substitute for butter;
and the Henna (_Lawsonia inermis_), which also flourishes on the eastern
coast and in Upper Egypt. The henna is a shrub from six to seven feet
high. Its flowers exhale a goat-like odour, which seems much affected by
the Orientals and the natives of Africa. Its roots, of a deep red hue,
are distinguished by a bitter taste and astringent properties. Finally,
its leaves supply an orange-red colouring matter, with which the Arabs
and negroes tint their hair, beard, and nails.

Let us not pass over without the tribute of our respectful notice the
numerous tribe of Acacias, which form vast forests in the districts
north of the Senegal, and yield the gum-arabic of commerce. The best
known species of this important and useful group are the _Acacia
Arabica_, or Red Gum-tree, the _Acacia Adansoni_, the _Acacia vera_, and
the _Acacia verek_.

We also meet at Senegal with a tree which I ought, perhaps, to have
ranked of right among those of India, and which, like many others,
belong rather to the whole zone of the Tropics than to any particular
country; I refer to the Tamarind (_Tamarindus Indica_),[166] whose
well-known name is supposed to be derived from the Arabic _Tamar_,
signifying "dates," and _Indus_, in allusion to its original habitat.
There is only one species of the genus, but the East Indian variety has
long pods, with six to twelve seeds, while the West Indian has much
shorter pods, containing one to four seeds. It is a tree of graceful
appearance, with elegant pinnated foliage and numerous racemes of
fragrant flowers. The pods are slightly curved, and consist of a brittle
brown shell, enclosing a soft, acid, brown pulp, traversed by strong
woody fibres; a thin membranous covering wraps up the seeds. The pulp
has a savour at once acid and sugary, and acts as a gentle laxative. The
timber is useful for building purposes, and furnishes excellent charcoal
for the manufacture of gunpowder.

The _Sterculiaceæ_ have numerous representatives at the Senegal. These
tall and handsome trees remind the traveller in their appearance of our
English oaks. The seeds of the _Sterculia acuminata_ and _tomentosa_ are
masticated by the negroes until reduced to a fluid paste, in which form
they employ it to dye their cotton-stuffs yellow. The dye is very
bright, and, it is said, extremely durable.

We know that a great part of the Gaboon is occupied by virgin forests,
where Fig-trees are predominant, and in marshy soils the Mangle or
Mangrove trees (_Rhizophora mangle_), which must not be confounded with
the savoury-fruited Mangoes of Eastern India. The Mangroves form, in the
family of the _Rhizophoras_, a genus distributed in the moist
localities of the Tropics, and we shall hereafter meet with them in
South America.

Equatorial Africa possesses several species of Palm-trees peculiar to
it. Such are the Thorny Date-tree, the _Borassus_ of Ethiopia, the
_Raphia vinifera_ of Congo, which, as its name "wine-bearing" indicates,
furnishes a wine analogous to that extracted in other regions from other
trees of the same family; the _Elæis Guinensis_, or Guinea Palm, whence
we obtain the well-known product of palm oil. This oil, or palm-tree
butter, forms an important article of food among the Guinea negroes. It
is imported into Europe in large quantities, and employed in the
manufacture of soap.

The forests of the Hottentot and Bechuana countries, and in general of
all those regions bordering on the Cape Colony, are frequently of great
extent, but mainly composed of trees of small stature, or even of
shrubs, such as the Cape Olive, a few Acacias, some Compositæ and
Conifers. Forests, as I have said, are rare in the explored portions of
the west African coast; they become denser and more numerous as we leave
the great ocean in our rear, and penetrate into that vast interior which
for ages has been haunted by so many mysteries. Their Flora, however,
offers no special character, and does not materially differ from that of
Guinea and Senegambia.



CHAPTER III.

VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE FORESTS OF THE GREAT ISLANDS.


I have said that under the same parallels of latitude, or under
neighbouring parallels, the physiognomy of the virgin forests was
everywhere nearly the same, and hence we must study from a point close
at hand the species which compose them, to determine the distinctive
characters of the great agglomerations of vegetables peculiar to
different countries. And yet the traveller who, after having explored
the primeval forests of Africa and Asia, should be transported to the
wild and wooded regions of the great Indian Archipelago and the Pacific
Ocean, could not fail to be struck with the novel spectacle presented to
his gaze. Undoubtedly he would meet, at first, with a great number of
plants not unknown to him; but he would not fail to discover many others
which he had not hitherto observed, and especially would he contemplate
with astonishment--perhaps with admiration--the chaos of this rich,
various, dense, but disordered vegetation. It seems, in truth, as if
within these "summer isles of Eden" Nature had hastened to accumulate
her choicest products, and feeling herself restricted within narrow
limits, had carefully laboured not to lose the smallest particle of
space--not even of the aërial territory, if I may so speak--allotted to
her. Not only are the trees set in the closest possible array, but they
struggle with wonderful effort to develop the exuberance of their
strength. Nearly all display an abundant and persistent foliage; their
branches are, in general, thick and spongy, and begin to shoot at the
base of the trunk; in such wise that the lower boughs extend close to
the ground, and by interlacing with those of neighbouring trees, form
impenetrable thickets. Many send forth, from their trunk and their
branches, frail flexible roots like the lianas, which descend to the
earth, plant themselves in the soil, and contribute to render the
forests absolutely impervious. Nor is this all; the plants grow there,
literally, one upon another. Nowhere, under the Tropics, does one see a
similar profusion of epiphytous plants; not a single tree but is invaded
by the close-clinging roots and flexible ramifications of these
parasites, mingled with brightly-blossoming lianas, whose multifold
stems are of immeasurable length. Species worthy of note, either on
account of their beauty, their various uses, or formidable poisonous
properties, and belonging to widely-differing families, abound,
moreover, in these perennial forests.

Ceylon, which has justly been named by the Orientals "a pearl detached
from Hindostan," so admirable is its situation, so marvellous is its
fertility, so exhaustless its mineral wealth, is the native country of
the _Laurus cinnamomum_--which was early transplanted to the
neighbouring continent--and of the Artocarpus, or Bread-fruit tree, one
of the most curious and most useful plants of this region.

[Illustration: BREAD-FRUIT TREE OF CEYLON (_Artocarpus incisa_).]

The Bread-fruit Tree (_Artocarpus incisa_) is a tree of the family
_Muriaceæ_, some 45 to 55 feet high. Make an incision in its bark,
wherever you will, and it exudes a white lacteal fluid, which hardens on
exposure to the air. Its branches are very numerous, and those nearest
its base attain a considerable length. Its leaves are large, consistent,
and somewhat deeply cut. It owes its name of "Bread-fruit tree" to its
ovoid or rounded fruit, about the size of an ostrich's egg, which forms
the staple food of the Cingalese. When fully ripe, the pulp or flesh is
white, firm, farinaceous, and very agreeable to the taste. The natives
boil it whole, or cut it into slices for roasting, and prepare it for
the table in numerous other modes. Two or three trees, it is said,
suffice for the provisioning of one man. My readers will remember that
its introduction in the West Indian Islands was signalized by the famous
Mutiny of the Bounty, and led indirectly to the settlement of Pitcairn's
Island; thus originating a strange and sufficiently poetical romance.

In the forests of Ceylon also flourish the _Cambogia Guttu_, the
_Stalagmites Cambogioides_, and the _Garcinia morella_ (family
_Guttiferæ_), whence camboge is extracted. This substance, at once
medicinal and tinctorial, exudes in a liquid state from wounds made in
the bark of the trees; it solidifies spontaneously in the vessels
wherein it is collected.

Immense forests overspread the humid plains of Sumatra. They are
constituted in the main of numerous species of Fig-trees (_Ficoidæ_),
whose abundant and persistent leaves form an obscure vault, impenetrable
by the sun's "golden arrows." Above this leafy dome shoot the rigid
trunks of trees of lofty stature. Of these, the most remarkable,
perhaps, is the Ipo-antiar (_Antiaris toxicaria_), whose juice, after
having undergone certain preparations, becomes one of the deadliest
known poisons. It was for a long time unknown with what substance the
Malays envenomed their arrows and their famous _kris_, or crease; nor
was it until the beginning of the present century that the traveller
Leschenault ascertained, not without difficulty, that it had for its
basis the juice of a very tall tree, with decaying leaves, to which he
gave the name of _Antiaris toxicaria_. This is the celebrated Upas,
whose deadly properties were formerly exaggerated in so many wonderful
fables. The poison is prepared in an earthen vessel, and mixed up with
certain quantities of the seed of the pimento and the pepper tree, and
the roots of various kinds of ginger. These are mixed together slowly,
except the pimento-grains, which are precipitated one by one to the
bottom of the vessel by means of a small stick. Each grain produces a
slight fermentation, and rises to the surface. It is then extracted, to
be plunged anew into the mixture, and this process is eight or nine
times repeated; after which the mixture is complete. It appears that the
Upas-antiar, taken internally, acts at first as a purgative, but
afterwards its influence extends to the brain, and produces death with
frightful tetanic convulsions. Introduced into the blood through a
wound, it kills small animals in a few moments, and men in a few hours.

[Illustration: 1. Nipa fruticans. 2. Sugar Palm (_Areca saccharifera_).
3. Ipo-Antiar (_Antiaris toxicaria_).]

Marvel-loving writers formerly asserted that this deadly poison was
employed in the execution of criminals, who, however, received a pardon
if they contrived to reach a tree, and bring back a supply of its venom.
Birds, it was said, dropped dead while flying over it--as was formerly
told of the pestilential waters of the Dead Sea--and the whole country
around was desolated by its noxious effluvia. But the fact is, the upas
tree is merely a tree with poisonous secretions, and in no way affects
the atmosphere of the locality where it lives.

A not less terrible poison is furnished by the Liana Tieuté (_Strychnos
tieuté_), a member of the family _Loganiaceæ_. It has an exceedingly
long stem, but does not yield, like the upas, a whitish milky juice. Its
voluminous roots are covered with a thin reddish bark, of a peculiarly
bitter taste. By boiling these roots the Javanese obtain the poisonous
resin called in Malaysia _Upas tieuté_, and which was at one time
supposed to be identical with the essential element introduced by the
Indians of South America into their famous _Ourari_ or _Wourali_. Sir
Richard Schomburgk, however, has shown that the latter is obtained from
the _Strychnos toxifera_, a native of Guiana.

There are several other species of Strychnos; all with flattened,
disc-like, and silky seeds, surrounded by pulp. _S. nux vomica_, a
moderate-sized tree, with fruit much like an orange in appearance,
furnishes the valuable medicine and fatal poison--for it is both--called
_Nux vomica_. The seeds have an intensely bitter taste, owing to the
presence of two most virulent poisons, _Strychnia_ and _Brucia_; but the
pulp is innocuous, and greedily devoured by birds. _Strychnos
Colubrina_, a native of Malabar, furnished a variety of Snakewood, which
in cases of bites by serpents is esteemed an infallible remedy. _S.
Pseudo-quina_, which flourishes in Brazil, yields a bark scarcely
inferior in value as a tonic and a febrifuge to quinine.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have spoken of the abundance and variety of the epiphytous plants
which grow profusely in the islands of the Indian Ocean. In Sumatra and
in Borneo, the more venerable trees are clothed in a rich garment of
lycopodiums and ferns, and these often glow with dazzling orchidaceous
flowers, while by their side flourish strange aroidaceæ, with climbing
crawling stems, and aërial suckers. But of all these brilliant
parasites, the most extraordinary, without doubt, is the _Rafflesia
Arnoldi_--a plant without any stem, which grows along the surface of the
ground upon the roots of the _lianas_, and principally of the _lissus_,
a species of vine peculiar to tropical countries. It was discovered by
Dr. Arnold, while in attendance upon Sir Stamford Raffles, Governor of
Java. It produces only a fleshy flower, of a wine-like colour, with an
intolerably disgusting odour; but it acquires extraordinary, and one
might say monstrous dimensions, for it seldom measures less than a yard
in diameter, and its weight frequently exceeds four pounds.

Upon the humid coasts of Borneo and Sumatra, the _Casuarinas_ mingle
their weeping branches with those of the mangroves and fig-trees. Palms
are common in these two great islands, as well as at Ceylon and at Java.
I may mention among the most useful the _Nipa fruticans_ and the Sugar
Palm (_Areca saccharifera_). The transformed leaves which accompany the
inflorescence of the Nipa are brimful of a sugared and effervescent
liquid, which is extracted by pressure, and converted into a palm wine
of indifferent quality, consumed in great quantities in the Sunda
Archipelago. A very sweet liquid, a species of syrup fit for the
confection of dainty sweetmeats, escapes from incisions made into the
floral envelopes of the _Areca saccharifera_. A tree-wax, analogous to
that of the _Croton sebiferum_, is furnished by the tree which the
natives of Borneo designate Pallagrar-Minjok (_Dipterocarpus
trinervis_). And, finally, it is at Borneo and at Sumatra we meet with
the _Dryobabanops camphora_, whence is procured a species of camphor
preferred by the Chinese to that of the _Laurus camphora_; the _Urceola
elastica_, whose milky sap indurates into a kind of caoutchouc, called
Suitawan; and the _Isonandra-Percha_ (genus _Bassia butyracea_, family
of the Sapotaceæ), which of recent years has become the staple of an
extensive commerce. It is from this tree we obtain the valuable product
of gutta-percha, which has received such various and ingenious
applications, and is scarcely less useful in the arts than in the
sciences.

[Illustration: FLORA OF THE EAST INDIAN ISLANDS:--

1. Rafflesia Arnoldia.
2. Niphobolus pubescens.
3. Phalænopsis amabilis.
4. Ærides suaveolens.
5. Cycas circinnalis.
6. Nepenthes distillatoria.
7. Scindapsus pertusus.]

Java is perhaps the most fertile of the Sunda Islands. Immense forests
extend over its plains, and climb up its mountain-slopes to an elevation
of upwards of 6500 feet. The damp localities are peopled with Clusiaceæ,
and with other trees of thick soft trunks and branches. Mangroves and
Avicennias thrive upon the littoral. The latter are specially noticeable
on account of their roots, which climb to a great distance above the
muddy soil, and throw off a number of suckers, not unlike gigantic
water-pipes (_asperges_). Among the palms most abundant at Java, I
confine myself to naming the Borrassus, the Corypha, and the Areca. The
Vaquois (a species of _Pandanus_), which in stature and appearance
resemble the palms, are also widely diffused in that rich and fertile
island. In the forests of its interior swarm such splendid Ferns as the
_Niphobolus pubescens_, and such graceful Archids as the _Aerides_
_suaveolens_, with its far-shooting fronds and flowers, and the
_Phalænopsis amabilis_. There, too, the traveller pauses before the
_Cycas circinnalis_, whose trunk, upright and cylindrical as a Grecian
column, is surmounted by a crest of feathery leaves, each six to seven
feet in length, stiff, and cut into numerous strips, somewhat like our
native bracken; or he refreshes himself with the pure liquid which the
winding _Nepenthes distillatoria_, or Pitcher plant, collects in its
horn-shaped leaves, as a constant source of nutriment for its active
life; or, finally, he gazes wonderingly at the _Scindapsus pertusus_, an
epiphytous plant, whose cartilaginous leaves are perforated with an
infinity of small circular holes, and which twines itself round the
tallest forest-trees in an embrace as close as love's!

The forest-flora of the Moluccas differs but little from that of the
Sunda Islands. It presents, however, a few plants particularly
calculated to excite our interest. Thus, at Amboyna, the Sago-Palms,
with other trees of the same family, accumulate in immense woods,
spreading over hundreds of acres. Everybody knows that the pith of this
palm is a white farinaceous substance, called _sago_, which not only
enters largely into the daily food of the natives, but forms an
important item in the European bill of fare, at least for children and
invalids. Amboyna, moreover, is the classic land of spices. The air is
thick with "Sabæan odours." Every breeze comes laden with perfumes. The
Nutmeg (_Myristica aromatica_), the Clove (_Caryophyllus aromaticus_),
and the Pepper-plants grow there in a wild state.

In the Philippines vegetation is singularly favoured by the humidity of
the climate and the elevation of the temperature, so that the Flora of
these richly-endowed islands displays a prodigious variety. Not a single
family of tropical plants but is here represented by several species.
Hill and valley and plain alike are characterized by the exuberant
growth of leaf and fruit and flower; the graceful forms might have
enchanted an ancient Greek, the wealth of glowing and intense colour
would have fired the imagination of Turner, and defied the palette of
Titian or Tintoretto. There are landscapes of such beauty and fertility
as the fancy of artist or poet never conceived. Ferns and Orchids are,
perhaps, even more abundant here than in the forests of Java, Borneo, or
Sumatra. The Bamboo attains to unusual proportions; the Areca (_Areca
catechu_) raises to the sky its tall shapely stem, crested with
plume-like leaves; and the Betel-nut tree supplies in profusion the
grains which, mixed with the fruits of the gigantic palm, constitute the
_Pinangue_; a kind of _quid_, which the Orientals chew delightedly, and
to which they attribute very valuable stomachic and digestive
properties. Under the dense shade of the great forests we are amazed by
untold numbers of various kinds of plants, all adorned by richly
coloured leaves, which invest the scene with a singular charm, nay, with
something of a fairy character; and amongst these we single out the
_Dracæna terminalis_, with its blood-empurpled foliage, which, recently
introduced into Europe, has already become one of the greatest ornaments
of our parks and gardens.

I have previously had occasion to remark the singularity of character
which in Australia distinguishes almost every member either of the
vegetable or the animal kingdom. I have already said that this immense
island-continent seems to have been the chosen theatre for a distinct
creative display, where every type differs from the representatives of
our scientific classifications in other parts of the globe. The reader
has been able to form some idea of the fancifulness of the vegetable
forms peculiar to the Australian savannahs. Nor are those which
constitute the so-called forests less strangely fantastic. On the
southern coast, which is the coolest, the forests are of very moderate
extent. In fact, they may be more correctly described as enormous
thickets scattered in tolerably sheltered localities. Most of the trees
which compose them have trunks of great feebleness compared with their
height, which is often prodigious, and they do not begin to ramify until
near their summits. Their bark is smooth, and usually of a
grayish-white. Of all their species it can only be said that two--the
_Stadmannia austral_ and the _Alectryon_--bear fruit which men can eat
even under the pressure of hunger. Finally--and this without doubt is
the most singular feature of a truly exceptional vegetation--while all
the trees and herbaceous plants of the Old and New Worlds develop their
leaves horizontally, or on a plane tangent to the cylindrical surface of
the trunk or stem, in Australia the leaves of the trees are disposed
vertically; in such wise that they give scarcely any shade, and yet are
themselves exposed in the very slightest degree to the action of the
solar rays. It is owing to this latter circumstance they are always
weakly coloured; and thus they give to the densest forests and the most
robust trees a sickly tint, a sort of pallor of disease, which saddens
the gaze accustomed to the varied tones and vivid hues of the verdure of
tropical forests, or to the bold contrasts of light and shade exhibited
by the woods of Europe and North America.

The Australian species are comprised in a small number of families,
notably in those of the Coniferæ and Myrtaceæ. Certain forests are
wholly composed of Casuarinas; others, of Acacias; others again, of
Eucalypti. Some of the latter trees may be ranged among the greatest
with which botanists are acquainted. The Blue Gum (_Eucalyptus
globulus_) attains, for instance, the extraordinary stature of upwards
of 300 feet, and does not send out a single branch until half this
distance from the ground. Its upright cylindrical trunk furnishes a
timber much appreciated by ship-wrights, and especially makes admirable
masts. The Eucalypti secrete in abundance a white, sugary, and aromatic
substance; whence they derive their popular name of "gum trees"--a name
which is also bestowed very frequently upon the gum-bearing Acacias.

The family of Coniferæ exhibit themselves in Australia, like every
other group of plants, under strange and novel forms. The shape of those
trees is generally fusiform and pyramidal; their leaves are sometimes
extraordinarily small, sometimes large and flattened. Many are of great
size; none, however, attaining the gigantic proportions of the
celebrated columnar Pine of New Caledonia, which Cook's companions
mistook for a colossal mass of basaltic pillars, and which Moore, like a
true son of industrious Albion, compared to an enormous factory-chimney.
This tree exceeds 160 feet in height, and its ramifications, all of the
same height, radiate regularly around its trunk, from the base even to
the summit.

[Illustration: 1. Ravenala Madagascariensis. 2. Heritiera argentea. 3.
Tanghin.]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: A FOREST IN MADAGASCAR.]

I have now to ask the reader's companionship on an excursion into the
forests of the great African island of Madagascar. The insalubrity of
the climate and the jealous inhospitality of the inhabitants will not
permit us to penetrate far into their luxuriant depths; but the most
superficial glance will satisfy us upon their wild magnificence and the
original variety of their superb flora.[167]

We should seek in vain among their leafy, blossoming glades, for the
famous Manchineal, a member of the American _Euphorbiaceæ_, which holds
a high place in the records of vegetable poisons; but the toxicological
amateur will find ample compensation in examining the formidable
Tanghin,[168] whose deadly juice, mixed with some other substances,
plays an important part in the judicial ordeals popular among the
Malagasy.

The Tanghin, or Tanguen (_T. venenifera_), is the only plant of its
genus, and is confined to Madagascar. It is described as a tree with
smooth alternate leaves of moderate thickness, clustered towards the
points of the branches, with large terminal cymes of flowers, having a
salver-shaped corolla, with rose-coloured lobes. The ovary is twofold,
with a long style and thick stigma; but usually only one attains to
perfection, and forms an ellipsoid fruit, somewhat pointed at the ends,
invested in a smooth purplish-green skin, and containing a hard stone
surrounded by a thick fibrous pulp. The poisonous seed of the Tanghin is
esteemed by the natives an infallible criterion of guilt or innocence.
After being pounded, a small piece is swallowed by the supposed
criminal. If he be cursed with a strong stomach, which retains the
poison, he speedily dies, and is held guilty; if his feeble digestion
rejects it, he necessarily escapes, and his innocence is considered
proven.

Beneficent Nature has planted by the side of this fatal tree a species
of infinite value, the _Ravenala Madagascariensis_, or "Traveller's-Tree,"
which derives the latter designation from the base of the petiole of its
large leaves, expanded and hollowed out into a kind of gutter, being
constantly filled with fresh water, and serving as a reservoir for the
thirsty wayfarer. The Vacquois, or Vacoa (_Pandanus utilis_), one of
the Screw-Pines, is of much utility to the natives, who fabricate sacks
and bags out of its tenacious leaves. The manufacture of these bags is a
source of comparative wealth for the poorer inhabitants of Madagascar,
and to a still greater extent for those of Réunion and the Mauritius,
whence they are exported annually by millions.

The Malagasy forests also include several resinous species; among
others, the Copal-Tree, which furnishes the well-known gum used in
Europe as a varnish; and the _Vahea_, a genus of Apocynaceæ, yielding
caoutchouc, which will hereafter figure largely in the exports from this
magnificent island. There are two species, namely, _Vahea
Madagascariensis_--the "Voua Héri" of the natives--and _Vahea
gummifera_. Numerous lianas, and a multitude of epiphytous plants,
ferns, and orchids, envelop and intertangle the trunks of the great
trees. I shall specify only the Beaded Liana (_Abrus precatorius_),
whose small hard fruits, rounded and of a scarlet red, make graceful
wreaths and necklaces; the _Angræcum sesquipedale_ (an orchid), with
bright irregular flowers; and the _Angræcum fragrans_, whose perfumed
leaves supply a wholesome and savoury infusion. Finally, the _Heritiera
argentea_, a tree about as large as our lindens, which certain botanists
place among the Byttneriaceæ, and others among the Sterculiaceæ, is
noticeable on account of its abundant foliage glittering silver-white.



CHAPTER IV.

VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE FORESTS OF THE NEW WORLD.


Nature, said Linné, is admirable above all in the smallest things:
_Natura maxime miranda in minimis_. He might, perhaps, have more justly
said, _Natura non minus miranda in minimis quam in maximis_: Nature is
not less wonderful in the least than in the greatest. Whether any
created thing occupies a more or less considerable space, or contains a
greater or lesser quantity of matter, is of no importance to the
naturalist, who only studies the structure of the organs, the springs of
life, and the different forces which set them in motion; and considered
from this point of view, a vibrio[169] and an elephant, a penicillium
and a baobab, possess for him the same importance, the same amount of
interest. It would, however, be unjust not to recognize the fact that
there is something very legitimate in the kind of reverential admiration
which every man is conscious of in the presence of those things that
symbolize, to a certain extent, power, strength, majesty, endurance--of
those that possess in a high degree the two valuable qualities of force
and greatness. Coleridge tells us that we admire the cataract because it
is the type of power. Probably our feelings for the oak are connected
with its emblematic properties of permanency, vigour, and durability.
All the logic of logicians, and all the sentiment of natural
philosophers, will never induce the mass of men to regard with the same
interest an ant and a lion, a tuft of moss and a forest of oaks, a grain
of sand and an Alpine peak. I do not think, therefore, that I am
stooping to a merely vulgar prejudice in signalling out to the reader,
among the vegetables of the forests, those whose exceptional dimensions
and venerable antiquity are for every traveller an object of
astonishment and curiosity. The truth is, that from their contemplation
we derive a more vivid conception of Almighty Power than from the
examination of even the most wonderful microscopical mechanism. To the
still small voice of Nature our ears are deafened by the clash and clang
of an ever-active world; but we cannot refuse to listen to the roar of
the ocean or the reverberation of the thunder. As we move swiftly onward
in the press of the crowd and the race of life, we ignore the tiny blade
and the delicate organism beneath our feet; but our eyes must perforce
be opened to the splendours of the sea, the undulating summits of
snow-crowned mountains, the sapphire vault of the starry heavens. Those
things realize to us, at once and with impressive force, the ubiquitous
majesty of the Divine Builder. And it is well that they should lift us
for a while above the materialism of our daily lives into a purer
atmosphere of thought and feeling--should bid us, while still lingering
in the dusty track, expand our souls to hear

    "The mighty waters rolling evermore."

It is not only in tropical regions that we meet with the giants of the
vegetable world. Europe possesses a few of them; isolated, it is true,
but comparable in their stature to the most robust denizens of the
Torrid Zone: such are the chestnut-tree of Etna, and the plane of
Boudjoukdéré, near Constantinople, of which so many travellers have
spoken. The remains of the virgin forests of North America also abound
in species analogous to our own, and capable of attaining, with an
almost incalculable longevity, truly extraordinary proportions.

       *       *       *       *       *

The lofty table-lands of California (the Rocky Mountains) nourish an
entire tribe of gigantic Coniferæ, frequently assembled in immense
forests. The _Pinus Lambertiana_, the _Pinus Sabiniana_, and the _Pinus
insignis_, are not less than 160 to 180 feet in height; the _Douglas
Fir_ boasts of an almost equal stature, with a circumference which
varies from 18 to 36 feet. Yet these colossal trees are surpassed by the
_Sequoia sempervirens_, which is 240 to 260 feet high, and by the Titan
of Titans, the huge _Wellingtonia gigantea_, which is also a Sequoia. I
shall mention a few individuals of the latter species, whose dimensions
may defy all comparison with the greatest trees of the Tropics.

According to Müller, about ninety-four of these Coniferæ flourish on a
plateau of the Sierra Nevada, at an altitude of 5400 feet. They are
distributed in small groups over a fertile soil. The gold-seekers have
named one of them the "Miner's Cabin." Its trunk, 320 feet in height,
presents an excavation 16 feet in width. The "Three Sisters" are
individuals springing from one root; the "Old Bachelor," stripped of its
branches by successive hurricanes, stands in solitary desolation; the
"Family" consists of two aged trees around which four-and-twenty scions
have sprung up. The "Riding-School" is an enormous hollow trunk,
prostrate on the ground, into which a man on horseback may enter as far
as thirty yards. Another hollow trunk has been exhibited at San
Francisco, where they have constructed out of it a saloon, adorned with
tapestry and furniture, capable of accommodating forty persons.

[Illustration:

     1. Large-leaved Magnolia. 2. Virginian Catalpa. 3. Pinus Sabiniana.]

Other resinous trees of smaller dimensions grow in the more or less
humid localities of North America; such are the _Chamoecyparis
Chamæcyparis sphæroidea_, which does not exceed 80 feet in height, and
the Western _Thuya_ of pyramidal outline. Nor must I forget to name,
among the Conifers of this continent, the Cypress of Louisiana, a tree
of handsome appearance, about 100 feet high and 12 to 15 feet in
circumference, which lives, it is said, 5500 to 6000 years. Its leaves
are shrunken like those of the larch; and from its roots, somewhat
deeply buried, spring several protuberances, or rounded conical
exostoses, which sometimes grow to the height of three feet without
bourgeoning.

The forests of the West and of the South which have hitherto escaped the
torch and the axe of the pioneer present to the traveller's admiring
gaze those magnificent species described so eloquently by Chateaubriand
and Cooper, and which are even less remarkable for their gigantic
stature than for the majestic elegance of their port, the beauty of
their foliage, and the dazzling splendour of their flowers. Some of
these forests are partly formed of Oaks whose leaves assume in autumn a
purple tint, like the "pupureum lumen" of the Latin poet. In others the
dominant trees are the Plane of the West, the Maple, the round-crested
Tulip, the large-leaved Catalpa, the Magnolia with white and scented
blossoms. To their trunks clings a whole world of climbing, creeping,
and parasitic plants; as the Virgin Vine, the Sumach, and the Virginian
Jasmine.

Mexico, as far as relates to its climate and productions, has been
divided into three distinctly marked regions, defined not by latitude,
but by the elevation of various portions of its territory. The upper
region, or Cold Lands, is that of the lofty mountains; the mean region,
or Temperate Lands, that of the intermediate plateaus; the inferior
region, or Hot Lands, is that of the low plains, sometimes arid,
sometimes marshy or wooded.

The arborescent Flora of the first two regions very nearly approximates
to that of our northern countries; it principally consists of Pines,
Firs, Oaks, and Arbute Trees. But in the Hot Lands the vegetation
generally assumes, as we descend towards the south, all the
characteristics of the tropical Flora. The feathery and graceful Palm
trees re-appear, mingled with Coryphas, Oreodoxas, Malpighiaceæ, and
Bignoniaceæ. There also grows the _Crescentia cujete_, or Calabash-tree,
which is likewise found in the Antilles; it has a tortuous trunk, long
branches extended horizontally, and ovoid fruits, clothed with a hard
woody bark, which the Indians fabricate into vessels of divers forms,
painting them in the liveliest colours.

Mexico is the country of the _Morus tinctoria_ and the _Hæmatoxylon
Campechianum_. These two trees furnish the dye-wood which forms so
important an article of commerce: the first, under the name of the
"yellow wood of Tampico" or "Tuspan;" the second, under that of
"Campeachy wood." It is in the hottest and most humid parts of the
southern provinces of this Republic that we meet, for the first time,
with one of the most precious trees of the Equinoctial Zone, the
Cacao-tree (_Theobroma cacao_), whose bruised and roasted seeds, mixed
with variable amounts of sugar and starch, form the different kinds of
Cocoa; or, sweetened and flavoured with vanilla or other substances, the
article known as Chocolate. It is but a small tree, with large entire
leaves, and clustered flowers growing from the sides of the old stems
and branches. Its large pentagonal fruits vary from six to ten inches in
length and three to five in breadth, and contain between fifty and a
hundred seeds.

The _Vanilla planifolia_, another Mexican native, famous for its
succulent fruit, is a plant of the Orchidaceous order, which climbs
about other trees in the manner of ivy. It is the only genus of the
family which possesses any economical value. The delicate perfume of its
fruit is due to the presence of benzoic acid, which forms in crystals
upon the pod, if left undisturbed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Already, in Central America, we encounter the first ranks, the vanguard,
as it were, of those vast impenetrable forests which spread over the
whole northern region of South America to the banks of the Amazon, and
cover with dense foliage immense areas in Guiana and Brazil. If we would
pause again to wonder at the Giants of the Vegetable Kingdom, we shall
find many well worthy of our consideration. Such, for example, is the
_Bertholletia excelsa_, a colossal Lecythidacean on the borders of the
Orinoco, whose large fruits are known in Europe as "Brazil nuts," the
seeds being enclosed in large woody vessels. The Sapucaya (_Lecythis
ollaria_) is scarcely less abundant, and of immense height. Its fruit,
popularly called "Monkey's Drinking-cups" (Cuyas de Macaco), consists of
a cup-like vessel, with a circular hole at the top, in which a natural
lid fits neatly. When the nuts are ripe this lid becomes loosened, and
the heavy cup falls with a crash, scattering the nuts over the ground.

"What attracted us chiefly," says a traveller in the virgin
forests,[170] "were the colossal trees. The general run had not
remarkably thick stems; the great and uniform height to which they grow
without emitting a branch, was a much more noticeable feature than their
thickness; but at intervals of a furlong or so a veritable giant towered
up. Only one of these monstrous trees can grow within a given space; it
monopolises the domain, and none but individuals of much inferior size
can find a footing near it. The cylindrical trunks of these larger trees
were generally 20 to 25 feet in circumference. Von Martius mentions
having measured trees in the Parà district belonging to various species
(Symphonia coccinea, Lecythis spirula, and Cratæva Tagia), which were 50
to 60 feet in girth at the point where they become cylindrical. The
height of the vast column-like stems could not be less than 100 feet
from the ground to their lowest branch. Mr. Leavens, at the saw-mills,
told me they frequently squared logs for sawing 100 feet long, of the
Pas d'Arco and the Massaranduba. The total height of these trees, stem
and crown together, may be estimated at from 180 to 200 feet: where one
of them stands, the vast dome of foliage rises above the other forest
trees as a domed cathedral does above the other buildings in a city.

"A very remarkable feature in these trees," says Mr. Bates, "is the
growth of buttressed-shaped projections around the lower part of their
stems. The spaces between these buttresses, which are generally thin
walls of wood, form spacious chambers, and may be compared to stalls in
a stable: some of them are large enough to hold half-a-dozen persons.
The purpose of these structures is as obvious, at the first glance, as
that of the similar props of brickwork which support a high wall. They
are not peculiar to one species, but are common to most of the larger
forest trees. Their nature and manner of growth are explained when a
series of young trees of different ages is examined. It is then seen
that they are the roots which have raised themselves ridge-like out of
the earth; growing gradually upwards as the increasing height of the
tree required augmented support. Thus they are plainly intended to
sustain the massive crown and trunk in these crowded forests, whose
lateral growth of the roots in the earth is rendered difficult by the
multitude of competitors."

Scarcely less remarkable, and certainly not less useful, than the
Traveller's Tree of Madagascar is the Massaranduba, or Cow Tree, of
these grand Brazilian wildernesses. It is one of the largest of the
forest monarchs, but rather reminds you of monarchy in its decay than of
regal pomp, owing to its deeply-scored reddish and ragged back. A
decoction of this bark is used as a red dye for cloth. The copious
milk-like fluid which the tree supplies, and which may even be drawn
from dry logs that have stood for days in the sun, is wholesome and
nutritious, if taken in moderate quantities. On exposure to the air it
soon thickens into an excessively tenacious glue.

But, apart from these monstrous trees, the virgin forest possesses an
abundance of interest for even the least observant traveller, while in
its various phases it is adapted to astonish, to impress, and to awe a
thoughtful mind. It is true that it does not boast of that profusion of
floral ornament, of those gay and exquisite buds and blossoms, which
make the charm of our English woods; but in its infinite variety of
foliage the grace of colour and beauty of form are ever present. What
most seizes upon the soul, however, is its intense silence--which the
occasional scream of some wild animal, or the infrequent song of some
pensive bird, or the sudden crash of some over-toppling tree, does but
render the more significant and appalling. The hush is like that which
prevails on a battle-field before the dread voices of the cannon speak
of death and carnage, but, unlike that hush, it is never interrupted.
Morning comes with its cold gray lights, noon with its warmth and
radiance and splendour, night with its orbed moon and pearly dews, but
the hush still reigns undisturbed, and it seems to the traveller as if
it would never be broken but by the sounds which shall proclaim the end
of all things!

[Illustration:

     1. Blechnum Brasiliense. 2. Alsophila horrida. 3. Panicum plicatum.
     4. Marauta. 5. Caladium violaceum.]

It is rather by the varied characteristics of the species which compose
it, by their fantastic structures and useful properties, than by its
gigantic outcomes, that the wild flora of these forest-regions appeals
to our admiration. We are struck at first by the infinite variety,
richness, and elegance of the vegetable forms. Especially do we pause in
wonder before those glorious Tree-Ferns which I take to be the finest
growth of the tropical wilderness. These Ferns, from 36 to 50 feet in
height, are not unlike Palms in their physiognomy; their stem is only
less upright, shorter, and more scaly; their foliage, slightly dentated
on the edges, is more delicate, of a looser and more transparent
texture. To this family belong the _Blechnum Brasiliense_ and the
_Alsophila horrida_. Not less attractive in appearance are the _Clusia
rosea_ or the _Carolinea insignis_. The former of these trees belong to
a family (that of the Clusiaceæ) nearly all whose representatives throw
off from every point of their branches long aerial roots. The traveller
reposes with a feeling of Sybaritic delight under its thick and
evergreen foliage, enriched with brilliant flowers. The second, with its
shrunken leaves, owes the specific epithet (_insignis_, "remarkable")
which botanists have imposed upon it, to the peculiar structure of its
flowers. The latter bear in the centre of their chalice a great number
of stamens, which form a silken tuft of the most graceful design.

The Gramineæ, like the Ferns,--to use an expression of
Humboldt's,--"ennoble themselves" under the Tropics: witness the Bamboo,
the Sugar-Cane, the Sorgho, and the great Panicums. Of the latter genus
we have already seen in Africa numerous species. America in its turn
offers to our attention the _Panicum maximum_ and _plicatum_,
wood-inhabiting Gramineæ, which without attaining to the dimensions of
the bamboo, or even to that of the cane, far surpass that of their
European congener, the millet.

The graceful palms abound in South America. The greatest of all, the
Cocoa-tree, seems there to have discovered its true home, for it nowhere
else acquires a greater development. There, too, the Banana flourishes
marvellously, no less than the Cocoa-tree, in a wild state, and, like
the latter, is carefully cultivated on account of its nourishing and
savoury fruits. A multitude of lianas and epiphytous plants twine round
the trunks and branches of the trees, and frequently choke up their
failing life. Some are indigenous to all tropical countries: the
_Calamus Rotang_, for example; others are more particularly, or even
exclusively, proper to the New World.

[Illustration:

     1. Banana. 2. Carolinea insignis. 3. Clusia rosea.]

The family of Aroideæ is there represented by the _Pothos_, whose fleshy
and herbaceous stems are surmounted by leaves sometimes arrow-headed,
sometimes digitate or elongated, and always divided by thick cord-like
nerves. We know that the Aroideæ alone possess, in the vegetable
kingdom, the property of disengaging, while flowering, a heat
appreciable by the thermometer. To this family belong the _Caladiums_, a
genus closely allied to the Pothos. With these lianas mingle the
branching stems of the Passifloræ, or Passion-Flowers, so named because
Pierre de Ceza, in his "Histoire du Pérou," asserted that he had
recognized in the fantastic flowers of this genus of plants all the
instruments of our Saviour's Passion--an idea which could only have been
conceived by an imaginative and credulous Spaniard. Elsewhere the
Bignonias open by hundreds their large and richly-coloured flowers; the
Bauhinias stretch along the trees their long leafless branches, often 40
to 45 feet in length, which sometimes hang vertically from the lofty
summits of the Swietenias, or Mahogany trees, and sometimes extend
obliquely from one huge trunk to another, like the ropes of a ship. The
Tiger-Cats, says Humboldt, display a wonderful agility in mounting or
descending these graceful vegetable shrouds.

Upon the umbrageous banks of the Rio Magdalena grows a creeping
_Aristolochus_, whose flowers in their extraordinary development surpass
those of the _Rafflesia Arnoldi_, measuring often three feet and a half
in circumference. The forests of which we are now speaking also nourish
numerous species of Convolvulus; I may particularize the _Convolvulus
batatas_, a climbing plant, whose roots produce the feculent and
saccharine tubercules known over the wide world by the name of
"Patates," and frequently but erroneously confounded with that most
useful vegetable, the Potato. The root of another Convolvulus, a native
of Mexico, constitutes the _Jalap officinalis_, which figures in the
veterinary pharmacopoeia as an important purgative.

Certain lianas, common enough in the South American forests, belong to
the family of _Sapindaceæ_, which, like the orders Loganiceæ and
Euphorbiaceæ, owe their reputation chiefly to the medicinal or poisonous
substances extracted from them. Among the Sapindaceæ I shall mention
only the genus _Paullinia_, which includes several species endowed with
narcotic properties. These properties appear especially developed in the
_Paullinia pinnata_. Its bark, leaves, and fruit contain an abundant
acrid principle with which the Indians of Brazil prepare a slow but
certain poison. The Indians of Guiana extract from the _Paullinia
cururu_ another substance with which they envenom their arrows, and
which was long supposed to be the veritable _Wourali_. But Sir Richard
Schomburgk has shown that the latter formidable poison is really
extracted, as I have already recorded, from the _Strychnos toxifera_, a
shrub of the family _Loganiaceæ_, which flourishes in Guiana and Brazil.
To the same family and the same countries belong the _Ignatia amara_,
whose seeds are known by the name of "St. Ignatius' Beans." These beans
contain two alkaloids, _Strychnine_ and _Brucine_, which we also extract
from the _Nux vomica_, and which must be classed among the most violent
poisons known to the toxicologist.

While speaking of the poisonous plants of South America, a few words in
reference to the Manchineal (_Hippomane Mancenilla_) will not be
inappropriate. This tree thrives best, it is said, on the sea-shore. It
bears a profusion of very pretty fruit, resembling in colour and form
the Red Apple (the Spanish _Manzanilla_), and exhaling an agreeable,
lemon-like odour. They are, therefore, scarcely less beguiling than Dead
Sea fruits; but they are also very poisonous, yet less deadly than the
milky juice which flows from the slightest incision made in the tree's
thick and grayish bark. This juice, received into the stomach, or
introduced into the blood through a wound, slays the victim with awful
quickness. If it do but touch the skin, it excites a violent irritation,
and raises swellings or boils of the worst description. The very vapour
which it emits causes a painful itching in the eyes, the lips, and the
nostrils. It was formerly asserted that to sleep under the shade of a
Manchineal tree was certain death; but the naturalist Jacquin, in the
interests of science, courageously made the experiment, and proved the
falsity of the story.

The Manchineal is not unfrequently confounded with other poisonous
Euphorbiaceæ, as the _Sapium aucuparium_ and the _Excoecaria
agallochia_, which flourish in very nearly the same regions. The
_Excoecaria_, it is said, is not less dangerous than the Manchineal.
It owes its name (_ex_, and _coecus_, "blind") to the circumstance (or
the fable) that some European sailors, while felling wood in the forest,
having accidentally struck with their axe a tree of this species, were
blinded by the milky juice which sprang into their eyes.

By a kind of compensation, the Tropical Forests, which contain so many
poisonous plants, produce also a great number of the highest utility to
man. Some offer him efficient remedies against the diseases which beset
his frame; others nourish him with the fecula of their roots or the
delicious substance of their fruits; others again supply him with
textile fibres, dyeing or resinous materials, and woods which the artist
and the artisan convert to numerous uses. This vegetable wealth has been
widely distributed over South America. It will suffice to indicate a few
of its more notable sources.

If we direct our attention to medicinal plants, we shall probably find
none more precious than the Quinquina, whose bark is the most effective
of all febrifuges, and which is endowed, moreover, with very valuable
tonic and depuratory properties. Sir Samuel Baker, in his recent address
to the British Association at Dundee, pronounced it the traveller's best
friend, the powerful weapon with which he could securely enter the
African wilderness, and successfully contend against its demon-host of
fevers and agues. The Quinquinas (genus, _Cinchona_; family, _Rubiaceæ_)
are trees or evergreen shrubs with large and handsome leaves, and
flowers whose form and fragrance remind one of the lilac. They are
diffused over the two slopes, but chiefly along the eastern slope, of
the Andean Cordilleras, in the republics of Venezuela, New Granada,
Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. The traveller meets them occasionally in
picturesque groups or thickets which the Peruvians call _Manchas_
(spots); but they are more frequently scattered in immense forests.

What of the lactiferous and resinous plants? South America is the native
land of the trees whence we extract the resinous gums called "Animé
d'Amérique," "White Amber," and "Soft Brazilian Copal," and the "Hevea
Guyanensis," which furnishes the greater portion of the caoutchouc
imported into Europe.

Caoutchouc was described for the first time in 1736, by the scientific
travellers Bouguer and La Condamine, members of a Commission despatched
to Peru by the Parisian "Académie des Sciences," to measure an arc of
the meridian. A few years later, the engineer Fresneau, who resided for
a long time in Guiana, collected, with the assistance of a native, ample
information in reference to caoutchouc and the tree which produced it.
Finally, in 1768, was found in a work by the traveller Aublet on the
Flora of Guiana, the description and figure of the _Hevea_. This tree
attains a height of 50 to 70 feet. The almond enclosed in the kernels of
its fruits is white, of a very agreeable taste, and much esteemed by the
Indians, who also extract from it an oil for seasoning their food.

The Banana, the American Agave, the Bamboo, and divers Palm-trees supply
the inhabitants of South America with suitable materials for the
fabrication of various tissues, from the finest and most brilliant linen
cloth to the rude mats which ornament the cabin of the savage. Trees
bearing fruits or edible roots are innumerable. To the Bananas and
Cocoa-trees which I have already mentioned, we may add, as the most
useful, the Maranteas or Canneas, especially the _Maranta arundinacea_,
_M. alloya_, and _M. nobilis_, whose roots, rasped and washed,
constitute the popular and valuable farina so widely known as
_Arrow-root_; the Guavas (_Psidium pyriferum_, and _P. pomiferum_),
whose gilded fruits contain a succulent and perfumed pulp; the Papaw
tree (_Carica papaya_), resembling the Palm in its port and aspect, and
also loaded with large yellowish fruit, whose flesh is exceedingly
savoury and aromatic. The Papaw, moreover, enjoys some extremely
remarkable properties; thus, its milky juice exhales, when burnt, an
ammoniacal odour, and chemical analysis has recognized therein the
presence of _fibrine_. Mix some of this juice in water, plunge into the
mixture fresh hard meat, and in a few moments it will become exquisitely
tender. The very exhalations of the tree operate in the same manner, and
the inhabitants of the regions where it flourishes suspend to its
branches such meat and poultry as they wish to soften.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: FLORA OF THE NEW WORLD.

1. Papaw Tree (_Papaya Sativa_)
2. Great American Cocoa-Nut Tree.
3. Mangrove (_Rhizophora mangle_).]

The immense forests of Brazil and Guiana are for the whole world an
inexhaustible storehouse of woods for dyeing and cabinet work. They
spread their dense masses of foliage along the borders of the sea, where
the Mangroves (_Rhizophora mangle_) plunge their adventitious roots into
the mud inundated by the surging tides of those regions, and form a kind
of impenetrable palisade, behind which grow in infinite variety trees of
the costliest timber. Such are the _Swieteniæ_, or Mahogany trees;
the _Ferolia Guyanensis_, which supplies the well-known rose or satin
wood; the _Jacaranda Brasiliensis_, and the _Dalbergia_, which yield the
violet ebony; the _Sterculia acuminata_, whose flowers exhale a foetid
odour, and whose timber, called "stinkwood," is nevertheless held in
high esteem on account of its durability, the fineness of its texture,
and the excellent polish of which it is susceptible. Nor must we forget
the _Cæsalpineæ_, whose woods are impregnated with a red colouring
matter which varies in tint according to the species, and which are
largely employed by the dyer under the names of "Brazil wood" and
"Pernambuco wood." A great number of other woods which we procure from
these countries, and which are in daily use in cabinet work, toys,
marquetry, and dyeing, belong to vegetable species as yet undetermined.
We might, however, almost venture to assert that whatever tree you
accidentally and at haphazard struck down in these forests, either its
timber, bark, or roots would be found capable of being utilized.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have not mentioned, among the species proper to the Forests of the New
World, those which are common with our own, and which abound upon
elevated lands. The extraordinary height to which not only isolated
mountains, but whole districts rise, in the vicinity of the Equator, and
the low temperature which is the consequence of this elevation, provide
the inhabitant of the Torrid Zone with a remarkable spectacle. For
while, as Humboldt remarks, he may look around him upon groves of palms
and bananas, he also sees those vegetable forms which are regarded as
more particularly belonging to the countries of the North. Cypresses,
firs, and oaks, barberries and alders, closely resembling our own, cover
the table-lands of Southern Mexico and that part of the Andes which the
Equator traverses. Thus Nature allows the denizen of the Torrid Zone to
see, without quitting his native land, all the vegetable forms of the
earth, at the same time that from one pole to the other the entire vault
of heaven reveals to his gaze its luminous worlds.

I conclude my account of the South American Forests with a picture
taken from the interesting volume of Mr. Bates, and drawn on the bank of
a forest stream flowing into the Murncupé. "A glorious vegetation," he
says, "piled up to an immense height, clothes the banks of the creek,
which traverses a broad tract of semi-cultivated ground, and the varied
masses of greenery are lighted up with the sunny glow. Open
palm-thatched huts peep forth at intervals from amidst groves of banana,
mango, cotton, and papaw trees and palms. Both banks are masked by lofty
walls of green drapery, here and there a break occurring. The projecting
boughs of the trees are hung with natural garlands and festoons, and an
endless variety of creeping plants clothe the water frontage, some of
which, especially the Bignonias, are ornamented with large,
gaily-coloured flowers. Art could not have assorted together beautiful
vegetable forms so harmoniously as is here done by Nature. Palms, as
usual, form a large proportion of the lower trees; some of them,
however, shoot up their slim stems to a height of sixty feet or more,
and wave their branches of nodding plumes between you and the sky. One
kind of palm, the Pashiúba (_Iriartea Exorhiza_), which grows here in
greater abundance than elsewhere, is especially attractive. It is not
one of the tallest kinds, for when full-grown its height is not more,
perhaps, than forty feet; the leaves are somewhat less drooping, and the
leaflets much broader than in other species, so that they have not that
feathery appearance which those of some palms have, but still they
possess their own peculiar beauty."

Probably there is no richer field on earth for the naturalist, the poet,
or the artist than the virgin forest;--

    "To mark the structure of a plant or tree,
     And all fair things of earth, how fair they be!"



CHAPTER V.

ANIMAL LIFE IN THE TROPICAL FORESTS:--THE ELEPHANT--THE RHINOCEROS.


Some thousands of years ago--no long period in the history of creation,
though so far outstripping the written records of man--gigantic animals,
with huge trunks and ivory tusks, forming the family of Proboscideæ,
were distributed throughout all the northern regions of Europe, Asia,
and America.

Of this family the most ancient and colossal representative is the
_Dinotherium_, which appears to have flourished in the Miocene period of
the Tertiary epoch, and a skull of which was disinterred at Eppelsheim,
in Hesse Darmstadt, in 1836, measuring about four feet in length and
three in breadth; whence Cuvier inferred that the total length of the
animal was probably eighteen feet. This pachyderm, which far surpassed
in size the largest living elephant, had a comparatively short trunk,
and tusks inserted in front of the lower jaw. Such a lower jaw could
hardly have been otherwise than cumbrous and inconvenient to the
quadruped if he lived on land. No such disadvantage, as Dr. Buckland
remarks,[171] would have attended this structure in a large animal
destined to live in water; and the aquatic habits of the family of
Tapirs, to which the Dinotherium was most nearly allied, render it
probable that, like them, it was an inhabitant of fresh-water lakes and
rivers.

Two other kinds of Proboscidians, the _Mastodon_ and the _Mammoth_,
belong to the Pleiocene period, the last of the Tertiary epoch, and to
the Intermediate or Glacial deposits, which immediately preceded the
modern epoch. The Mastodon only differed essentially from the Elephant
in his dental apparatus. His molar teeth were covered with conical
projections, whence his name; he had two small tusks, planted in the
lower jaw like those of the Dinotherium, but bent forward, and two
others in the upper jaw, having the same direction, but being of a
prodigious length. Buffon named it the "Animal of the Ohio," because its
fossil remains were discovered on the banks of that great river. They
have also been found in other parts of North America, and particularly
in the saline morass known as Big-bone Lick, in the northern districts
of Kentucky. Several skeletons, almost perfect, have been excavated at a
moderate depth, and some of them in a vertical position, as if the
animals had been stricken with death while standing, and suddenly
engulfed in the mud.

Many curious fables are told by the Indians in reference to this extinct
quadruped. The Shawnee Indians believe that contemporary with them lived
a race of men of proportionate dimensions, and that the Great Being
destroyed both the one and the other with thunderbolts. Those of
Virginia state that the "Great Man on High" slew this colossal genus,
because it was exterminating the animals created for the use of man, and
that none escaped but the hugest bull, who, having been wounded by the
celestial bolts, fled towards the great lakes, in whose solitudes he
wanders to this very day. The Indians of Canada and Louisiana designate
the Mastodon by the name of "Father of the Bulls," probably on account
of the bones of cattle disinterred with his own.

The Mammoth (_Elephas primigenius_) is known to us only by the fossil
remains which have been discovered embedded in the glacial deposits of
the Intermediate epoch. The first discovery took place in 1799, under
circumstances which are thus recorded in the _Zoologist_.

In 1799, a Tungusian fisherman observed, in a bank on the shore of the
Frozen Ocean, at the mouth of the river Lena, a shapeless mass almost
enveloped in ice, and he was quite unable to determine what it might be.
In the following year a larger portion of this mass became visible, but
the fisherman was still unable to discover its nature. Towards the end
of the following summer, however, one of the tusks and an entire side of
a fossilized animal were exposed. But it was not until the fifth year
from its discovery, when the ice had melted sooner than usual, that the
enormous animal became entirely detached from the bank or cliff in which
it was first observed, and came thundering down upon a sand-bank below.
In the month of March 1804, the fisherman extracted the tusks, which
were nine feet six inches long, and together weighed 360 pounds, and
sold them at Yakoutsk for fifty roubles. Two years afterwards, Mr.
Adams, a traveller, visited the animal, and found it much mutilated. The
Yakoutes residing in the neighbourhood had cut away the flesh to feed
their dogs; wild beasts had also eaten a great quantity of it.
Nevertheless, with the exception of a fore-leg, the skeleton was entire;
the other bones being still held together by ligaments and portions of
skin. The head was covered with dried skin; one of the ears was entire,
and furnished with a tuft of hairs; the pupil of the eye was still to be
distinguished; the brain was in the skull, but somewhat dried; the lower
lip had been gnawed by animals, the upper one was entirely gone, and the
teeth were consequently exposed; the neck was furnished with a long
mane; the skin was covered with long hair and a reddish wool; the
portion of skin still remaining was so heavy that two men could scarcely
carry it; according to Mr. Adams, more than thirty pounds' weight of
hair and wool was collected from the wet sand into which it had been
trodden by the white bears while devouring the flesh. This skeleton is
now preserved in the Museum of the Academy of St. Petersburg. The height
of the creature is about nine feet, and its extreme length to the tip of
the tail about sixteen feet.

A second carcass was afterwards discovered on the bank of the Asaleïa,
which empties its waters into the Frozen Sea, by the traveller
Sarytcheff. It was standing upright, and wholly covered with its skin
and fur. Finally, a third has been recently found in the same region,
and the Museum at Paris possesses a portion of its skin, with a tuft of
wool, and some relics of the mane.

The Mammoth, therefore, would seem to be a link connecting the past and
the present worlds, a being whose body has outlived its destination.
Evidently it was adapted to brave the winters of a boreal clime; its
long, warm, and woolly coat forming an admirable defence against the
severest cold. It probably inhabited the icy plains, and the banks of
the lakes and rivers; its food consisting of lichens, reeds, and the
young shoots of the willows and other trees which thrive in moist
situations.

The Mammoth naturally leads us to an examination of his descendant and
congener, the Elephant; the largest and strongest, the most sagacious
and docile of all living animals.

Elephants, of which only two species at present exist, the Asiatic and
African, are natives of tropical regions, where they prefer to inhabit
the depths of the forests, quitting their umbrageous recesses only at
night, in search of food, or to quench their thirst in the nearest
stream.

The whole form of the animal suggests the idea of unwieldy strength. His
head is large, with extremely small eyes, and very large and pendulous
ears; he has an arched back, and a huge thick body, which rests upon
clumsy and shapeless legs; his feet are slightly divided into five
rounded heaps; the upper jaw is armed with two enormous projecting
tusks, which measure in many instances six or seven feet; and he is
endowed with an extraordinary proboscis or trunk, of such strength that
it can uproot trees, and of such delicacy that it can gather grass. This
organ, nearly eight feet in length, conveys the food to the mouth, and
pumps up the enormous draughts of water, which by its recurvature are
turned into and driven down the capacious throat, or showered over the
body. Its length supplies the place of a long neck, which would have
been incompatible with the support of the large head and weighty tusks.
A glance at the head will show the thickness and strength of the trunk
at its insertion; and the massy arched bones of the face and thick
masculine neck, are wonderfully adapted for supporting and working this
powerful and marvellous instrument.

The Asiatic Elephant (_Elephas maximus_ of Linné, _Elephas Indicus_ of
Cuvier) has small ears and tusks. A head elongated in height, and
terminating in a kind of double pyramid. His hide is a clear brown
colour. This species includes several varieties; that of Indo-China is
remarkable for its prodigious height, which sometimes attains fifteen
feet, and for a skin marked with brown spots upon a clear gray ground.
The islands of the Indian Archipelago likewise contain several varieties
of elephants, which experts can easily distinguish from one another. In
every species are found the _albinos_, or white elephants, which receive
the marked veneration of every Indian race, and particularly of those of
Siam and Pegu.

The African Elephant (_Elephas Africanus_) differs from the preceding in
the structure of his grinder teeth, in the length of his tusks, which
are enormous, and in his ears, whose trumpet is also of great
dimensions. He was formerly met with throughout all the African
continent, and was much employed in war by the Carthaginians and
Egyptians. From the northern regions of Africa he has now disappeared,
but large herds still haunt the whole southern division, from the
Senegal to the Cape, and the eastern districts, as far north as
Abyssinia. He is also found in all the African interior, whose
inhabitants deal in ivory as the staple of their commerce. His height is
equal to that of the Asiatic elephant, and the habits of the two species
are identical.

Elephants live in the forests, gathering in troops of from thirty to
about one hundred individuals, and as they require a very extensive area
of pasturage, it is said that they pitilessly expel from their domains
all other animals which trespass therein to share the product.

Each herd marches under the guidance of an acknowledged chief. When they
sally forth from their retreats to devastate a field, or to wander in
quest of fresh pastures, they observe a very regular order of march; the
young and the females occupying the centre, the males assemble round
them in a circle. If danger threatens, the little ones take refuge under
the breast of their mothers, who fold their trunks about them.

The young elephant is suckled for two years, and during that period
attains the stature of four feet and a half. At the end of the third
year he is nearly six feet high. He continues to grow, but less rapidly,
until twenty-two or twenty-four years old. The female adults measure
generally from seven to nine feet in height, and the males from ten feet
and a half to twelve. As may be inferred from the tardiness of his
growth, the elephant enjoys the privilege of longevity. He has been
known to live in captivity to the age of 120 or 130 years; but Cuvier
was of opinion that in his free and wild condition he might well number
nearly a couple of centuries.

The Africans hunt the elephant for the sake of his ivory and flesh; in
India, and the isles of the Indian Ocean, to reduce them to subjection.
In Africa, for many negro populations, ivory and "ebony wood" (an
euphuism by which the slave-dealers designate their black slaves) are
the sole articles of commerce, and the majority of the English, Dutch,
and French colonists carry on a considerable traffic in elephants'
teeth. The negroes excavate wide pits which they cover over with
branches; and the elephants falling into them are precipitated headlong
upon sharpened stakes; or they kill them either with arrows, assegays,
or musketry. Hunting them with spears is truly a ferocious pastime. The
poor elephant only succumbs after receiving so great a number of
projectiles that his body resembles an enormous porcupine. He rarely
turns upon his aggressors; he seeks to fly; he fills the air with
plaintive wailings; the female throws her huge bulk between her young
ones and the enemy; the male sometimes rushes furiously upon his
assailants, and woe to the latter if he overtake them; he crushes them
under his hoofs, he pierces them with his tusks, or seizes them with his
trunk, and dashes them upon the earth a shapeless and bleeding mass. But
nimble and experienced hunters easily elude his charge, whose onset he
is prevented from moderating by his weight, or from rapidly changing its
direction.

[Illustration: HUNTING THE ELEPHANT IN AFRICA.]

But firearms, and especially the recently perfected rifles, are
assuredly the best weapons to employ against the leviathan. With a
Westley-Richards, for instance, a good marksman, aiming at the
shoulder-joint or the ear, is certain to bring down his game; he may
post himself at a distance, and avoid exposure, while the victim is
saved from a cruel agony.

Ivory is not the only valuable product which the elephant yields; his
hide, very thick and very tenacious, can be utilized for many purposes.
The bucklers made of it by the negroes are scarcely less precious than
the shield of Ajax, which was formed of a bull's hide sevenfold. The
animal's flesh is also eaten, although too tough and too strongly
flavoured for an European palate.

In India and the Indian islands the chase is carried on to make
prisoners, and not victims. Its most remarkable feature is the important
and almost indispensable assistance which the tame elephants render man
against their wild brethren, zealously aiding to reduce them into
slavery; now serving as baits to beguile and attract, and now as
gendarmes, or rather as convict-warders, to compel their obedience. In
Ceylon, elephant-hunting is almost an affair of State; it is like a
national war, in which the Government appeals to the goodwill of the
population generally, both Europeans and natives.

As soon as it is known that a troop or _horde_ of elephants has
assembled in a forest, the natives set to work, and with trunks of trees
fixed in the ground and supported by transversal bars and buttresses,
construct a vast palisaded enclosure, or _corral_, whose entrance forms
a kind of gullet so narrow that the animals can only enter one by one,
and once drawn into it are unable to return. This being accomplished, a
thousand men, Europeans or Cingalese, surround the forest; they enclose
the herd in a circle which incessantly contracts, and drive them before
them by waving their torches, and keeping up a grand _tintamarre_ of
tamtams, trumpets, and musket-shots. The frightened animals can find no
other avenue of escape than the entrance to the corral, where are
placed, moreover, as an attraction, some females trained to act as
decoys.

When all, or nearly all the herd, has been driven into the enclosure,
the entrance is strongly and firmly closed with ropes and beams. The
elephants, perceiving themselves caught in a trap, naturally endeavour
to effect their escape by the way they entered. A sufficient number of
hunters then place themselves along each side of the avenue, and a few,
mounted on the decoys, are stationed at its extremity. The moment that
one of the captives has got entangled in it, his retreat is cut off by
means of thick planks piled across the palisade, and he is allowed to
make his way towards the entrance, which is also blocked up. There he
encounters the decoys, which force him, by striking him with their
trunks, to fall back against a neighbouring tree, to which he is
speedily bound with ropes. This first operation accomplished, the
females are led back to the corral, and the game is renewed, until all
the animals have undergone the same fate, and each of them is thralled
to a tree in the forest. Nothing now remains but to accustom them to a
life of servitude; and this is done by depriving them of food for a
short time, then administering it in small quantities, and proceeding
from the articles they like the least to those they prize the most. The
privation at first enfeebles them, and consequently calms their
irritation, while they feel the greater gratitude afterwards for the
alleviation which is so readily afforded them. This gratitude, and,
still more, the dependance in which they find themselves upon man, who
at his supreme pleasure grants or refuses their food, renders them in a
few days docile and tractable. Thus their docility, and the important
services which they render, mainly arise in the overmastering fear which
man inspires in them.

"It is remarkable," says Boitard, "that the elephant is not and never
has been a domestic animal, but a captive who only obeys through terror.
However tame he may be, he never fails to escape into the woods to
resume his savage life if an opportunity arises. The need, therefore,
arises that on a long march he shall have his driver, or _mahoud_, on
his back, to guide him, threaten him, and prevent him from taking to
flight. His love of liberty is as great as that of the wildest animals,
and in the female elephants it even overpowers maternal love; therefore,
when suckling their young, they are never released from their chains,
for experience has proved that they will abandon them without regret
if circumstances should enable them to effect their escape."

[Illustration: A CORRAL IN CEYLON.]

The moral and intellectual qualities of the elephant have been greatly
exaggerated. As far as his morality is concerned, we must pronounce him
a cowardly, pettish, and rancorous animal, which retains a much livelier
recollection of every injury done him than of the benefits he may have
received. In an intellectual point of view he is certainly inferior to
the ape and the dog, but he is superior to the Carnaria, as well as to
most of the Herbivora. His faculties, perhaps, may be most justly
compared to those of the horse, which would certainly have exhibited as
much intelligence if Nature had gifted him with a trunk; for we must
never forget that the development of an animal's faculties greatly
depends upon the perfection of his organs. Again, the horse is
susceptible of a complete domestication, while the elephant, as Boitard
has remarked, is a captive, ever dreading, never loving his master, and
eagerly awaiting a favourable moment to escape from him.

       *       *       *       *       *

After the Elephant, the chief of the animals inhabiting the forests is
the Rhinoceros, ranged with him by Linné in the order of _Belluæ_ (or
enormous beasts), by Cuvier in that of Pachyderms, and by De Blainville
in that of Gravigrades.

The name _Rhinoceros_ ([Greek: rhin], nose, and [Greek: keras], horn)
indicates at once the peculiarity which at the first glance
distinguishes him from the other Pachyderms. He carries, in fact, upon
the arch formed by his nasal bones one or two solid, curved, and
sharp-pointed horns, which serve him as very formidable weapons. His
ears are upright, pointed, and moderately large; the eyes small and half
closed. The coarse thick skin, knotty or granulated on its surface, is
of such tenacity and impenetrability about the short thick legs and
ungainly body, that it resists the claws of the lion or the tiger, the
sword or the shot of the hunter. It hangs about the neck in several
large plaits or folds; another fold passes from the shoulders to the
fore-legs, and another from the hind part of the back to the thighs. He
has a moderately large and long head, a protruding upper lip, and a
depressed skull. His manners are fierce, but not aggressive; he leads a
lethargic life, and wallows on the marshy banks of lakes and rivers,
where grows the vegetable food on which he exclusively feeds. He usually
measures about twelve feet in length from the tip of the nose to the
insertion of the tail; his height is about seven feet; and the girth of
his body is nearly equal to its length!

The appearance of the Rhinoceros upon the globe was probably
contemporaneous with that of the Proboscideæ. Fossil remains of the
animal have been discovered in the temperate, and even the cold
countries of Asia and Europe. In 1772 an entire rhinoceros, admirably
preserved, was found embedded on the banks of a Siberian river, in the
ancient frozen soil. Now-a-days he is exclusively confined to the
tropical regions of the Old World. He lives a solitary life in the dense
jungles of India, the Sunda Islands, Central and Austral Africa.
Naturalists distinguish six varieties--the Rhinoceros of India, the
one-horned Rhinoceros of Java, the two-horned Rhinoceros of Sumatra, the
unarmed Rhinoceros, the two-horned Rhinoceros of Africa, and the
Rhinoceros of Bruce.

The Indian Rhinoceros attains the height of five to six feet, and the
length of seven to nine feet. He confines his wanderings in the main to
the Trans-Gangetic peninsula. He has but one horn, and some dim
tradition of this animal may probably have suggested the long popular
fable of the mysterious Unicorn. His skin, of a dusky brown, is so
singularly thick that it would have rendered all movement impossible on
the part of the quadruped, if Nature had not disposed it in deep folds
corresponding to the principal articulations. Thus he seems to the eye
caparisoned in a body-armour of thick leather, formed in several pieces;
and in truth his impervious hide constitutes a cuirass against which
even musket-balls strike innocuously. Hence he dreads not the attacks of
any of the Carnivora.

The Rhinoceros of Java is undoubtedly but a variety of the Indian
species. That of Sumatra differs from the preceding in the possession of
two horns--one, the anterior, of great length; the other, much shorter.
His skin is moderately thick, very much wrinkled, in deep folds, and
garnished with a quantity of long hair.

The unarmed Rhinoceros, who inhabits the islands of the Ganges, has but
one rudimentary horn.

[Illustration: KAFFIR HUNTER CARRIED OFF BY A RHINOCEROS.]

The African Rhinoceros is the king of his race. He wears a naked,
smooth, and tenacious skin. Two horns are mounted on his upper jaw; the
front one measures more than eighteen inches in length. In all Southern
and Western Africa this huge ungainly quadruped is found.

The Rhinoceros of Bruce inhabits Abyssinia. His supreme idea of
happiness, of the _summum bonum_, as viewed from a _Proboscidean_ point
of view, is to wallow luxuriously in the mud and slime, and while
abandoning himself to this anti-Sybaritic indulgence, he heaves a hoarse
groan of satisfaction, which conducts the hunter to his retreat. The
Abyssinians pursue him on horseback. Some attack him with arrows or with
musketry; others, and these are the boldest, leap from their steeds at
the moment the rhinoceros leaps upon him, and hamstring him with their
sabres. The huge quadruped falls immediately, and becomes an easy prey
to his aggressors.[172] In South Africa the Kaffirs and the Hottentots
display an equal audacity in attacking this formidable foe. They dare to
confront him with their sharp knives alone, and generally with success,
though a weak thrust or a wrong aim would entail upon them a sudden,
swift, and terrible death.

Mr. Cooper Rose, in his "Sketch of South Africa," celebrates an aged
chief who had won a well-deserved renown by the most extraordinary
instance of courage and presence of mind. He was out a-hunting. A
rhinoceros broke abruptly from the covert of a dense thicket, and so
near to him, that the Kaffir easily leaped upon his back. The furious
animal immediately dashed through the jungle, beat the earth with his
horn, roared with rage, and used his utmost exertions to dismount his
unwelcome rider. In this he would have undoubtedly succeeded, and the
negro must have perished, if happily the kross, or sheepskin mantle of
the latter, had not been caught in the bushes. Mad with fury, the
rhinoceros threw himself upon it, and while he was busy rending it in
fragments the Kaffir leaped lightly to the ground, and saved himself in
the deep recesses of the forest.



CHAPTER VI.

ANIMAL LIFE IN THE VIRGIN FORESTS:--THE GREAT APES.


It is of their own free choice, to shelter themselves from the burning
arrows of the sun, to enjoy the dense shadows and delicious coolness of
the great trees, and, without doubt, to avoid the attacks of men, that
the elephant and the rhinoceros are denizens of the forest. But a
certain number of Mammals Nature seems to have specially designed to
people the forests, and for whom their general organization, and, above
all, the structure of their locomotive organs, appear to have left the
selection of no other abode. Such are, in the first place, the genera,
so numerous and so diverse, which compose the great order of Quadrumana
("four-handed"), indistinctly comprehended, in popular phraseology,
under the denomination of Apes; such, too, are the curious arboreal
animals called Sloths; and such, finally, in the order Rodentia, are the
Squirrels.

In occupying ourselves, primarily, with the _Apes_, we do but conform to
the scientific classifications, all of which place these Mammals
immediately next to Man in the zoological series.

Linné originally proposed to designate, under the name of
_Primates_--that is, the first, or chief of animals--Man, in the first
place; next, the Apes; then the Galeopitheci (or Lemurs); and, finally,
the Cheiroptera (or Bats). This order of Primates, established by the
great Swedish naturalist, has been admitted by the majority of
contemporary authors, who, however, have separated the Cheiroptera from
it. Many have also separated Man, and, as I think, have more correctly
placed him as a distinct genus in the order Bimana (or two-handed).

       *       *       *       *       *

The Apes, or Quadrumana, are divided into two families--that of Apes,
properly so called, and that of the Lemuridæ, or Lemurs. Both belong
exclusively to the hottest regions of the globe. The latter are found
only in India, Africa, and Madagascar. The Apes, on the other hand, are
also spread through South America; but it is in the Old World we
encounter the most numerous, the most varied, and the most remarkable
species.

Those writers who are so much addicted to tracing analogies between Man
and the Ape, should explain how and why it is the latter attains his
greatest development precisely in those regions where Man's intellect is
dwarfed, "cribbed, cabined, and confined."

To the ancient continent especially belong the great apes without tail,
or with very short and rudimentary tail--Anthropomorphes, Baboons,
Macaucos, and the Cynocephali.

Apes, as well as the other Primates, are all inhabitants of tropical
countries. They do not exist in Europe, in Upper Asia, or in North
America.

A single genus seems able to adapt itself to the climate and conditions
of the Temperate Zone, and still reigns in the Mediterranean region--in
Africa, to the north of the Atlas; in Spain, on the rock and in the
neighbourhood of Gibraltar--this is the genus Baboon (the _Pithecus_ of
the classical writers), included in the family Macaucos. It differs from
other genera of the same family in being tailless. This organ is
rudimentary in some species of Macaucos, properly so called--as in the
Red-faced Macauco of Japan; in others, its length never exceeds that of
the animal's body. It is the same with the genus Mangabey. Among the
Cynocephali, the tail is usually short. These apes are remarkable, as
their name indicates, for their prominent muzzle, which resembles that
of a dog; and, moreover, for the naked callosities, more or less
extensive and of a bluish or vivid red colour, which exist on the upper
part of their thighs, immediately beneath the tail.

The Macaucos and the Cynocephali are, in general, of tall stature. When
standing upright, they will be about two and a half to three feet in
height, but this posture is not natural to them, and they rarely adopt
it unless constrained. For their hinder limbs being of nearly the same
length as the fore, the quadrupedal mode of progression is easy and
habitual, either when they move on the ground or traverse the horizontal
branches of the trees among which they live. These apes are endowed with
surprising strength, and several, especially among the Cynocephali,
render themselves formidable by their ferocity and their aggressive
audacity. In captivity they show, while young, a mildness of disposition
which, joined to their keen intelligence, would seem to render them
capable of being greatly improved by careful training. But these good
inclinations do not long endure: arrived at the adult age, the Macaucos
and Cynocephali soon allow all their malignity, mischievousness,
brutality, and vicious instincts to peep out, and as they grow older
become completely intractable.

In the time of Desfontaines baboons were so common in the forests of the
Atlas, that in the environs of Stora the trees were frequently covered
with them. "They feed," says that author, "on pine apples, sweet nuts,
Indian figs, melons, water-melons, and the vegetables which they pilfer
from the gardens of the Arabs, whatever cares the latter may exercise to
keep these ill-doing animals at a distance. While engaged in their
thieving operations, two or three mount to the top of the tallest trees
and loftiest rocks to keep watch, and when they perceive any person
approaching, or hear any noise, they give a cry of alarm; whereupon the
whole troop immediately take flight, carrying with them all they have
been able to seize." Despite of these predatory habits, the baboons at
Gibraltar have been fortunate enough to find powerful protectors in the
officers of the British garrison, without whom they would have been
destroyed. A prohibition against hunting them exists throughout the
territory under British rule.

At the Cape of Good Hope, and at other points of Southern Africa,
Europeans are far from displaying the same amount of goodwill towards
the Cynocephali. It is true that they are formidable enemies to man
through their malignity, their strength, and the dangers incurred from
their bite. Their mouth is armed, in fact, with canine teeth comparable
to those of the most powerful Carnivora. The wounds, therefore, says M.
Paul Gervais, which they inflict, either in defence, or, as is more
customary with them, in attack, are deep, and consequently very
dangerous. These apes are fiercer in disposition than the Macaucos, and
inspire so much fear when grown up that one of their species is
popularly known by the expressive name of the "Man-Tiger."

[Illustration: BABOONS PLUNDERING A GARDEN.]

We must not confound the Cynocephali with the Cynopitheci, an
intermediate genus between the Apes and the Macaucos, which connects
both the former and the latter with the Anthropomorphes. The Cynopitheci
have no tail; their face is moderately elongated; their ears are round
and rimmed. The type-species of this genus is the Negro Cynopithecus,
who is wholly black, and a little smaller than the Baboon. His head is
crowned with a kind of head-dress raised to a point on the forehead; and
his face surrounded with a fringe of long hair. His habitat is the
Celebes, and some other islands situated between Borneo and Mindanaos.
He possesses a mild and lively disposition. Quoy and Gaymard,
naturalists on board the French exploring-ship _L'Astrolabe_, obtained
an individual who was readily tamed, and played in the gayest and
best-tempered manner possible with the first person he encountered.

[Illustration: THE BLACK CYNOPITHECUS.]

I may here pause to indicate a few of the more remarkable varieties of
the Baboon and the Monkey: premising that by a recent classification the
Apes, or Simiæ, are divided into four sections--viz.: Apes, or such as
are tailless; Baboons, with elongated muzzles and short tails; Monkeys,
generally with long tails; and Sapajous, or Monkeys with prehensile
tails. For the present, I limit my remarks to members of the second and
third sections.

Among the Monkeys of the Old Continent a prominent place should be given
to the Proboscis Monkey (_Nasalis larvatus_), who is endowed--I may not
say, ornamented--with a nose of the most grotesque character and
formidable dimensions. This species measures two feet from the tip of
the nose to the tail, which is longer than the body. His colour is a
dark chestnut, but the face is marked with blue and red. He belongs to
Borneo and Cochin-China, where he assembles in large troops, and feeds
wholly on fruit.

To Cochin-China also belongs the _Douc_, a very large species,
remarkable for their coat of many colours. Back, belly, and sides are of
a yellowish-gray; feet black; lower part of the arms and tail, white; a
collar of brownish-purple encircles the neck; long yellowish hairs
fringe the sides of the face, which is rather flat and of a yellowish
bay hue. He measures, when standing upright, three feet and a half to
four feet.

In South America are found the _Howling Monkeys_. Mr. Bates describes
one species, the _Mycetes strumineus_, which measures sixteen inches in
length, exclusive of the tail; the whole body is covered with rather
long and shining dingy-white hair, the whiskers and beard only being of
a tawny hue. "The one of which I am speaking," says Mr. Bates,[173] "was
not quite full grown. When it first arrived, it occasionally made a
gruff subdued howling noise early in the morning. The deep volume of
sound in the voice of the howling monkeys, as is well known, is produced
by a drum-shaped expansion of the larynx. It was curious to watch the
animal whilst venting its hollow cavernous roar, and observe how small
was the muscular exertion employed. When Howlers are seen in the forest,
there are generally three or four of them mounted on the topmost
branches of a tree. It does not appear that their harrowing roar is
emitted from sudden alarm; at least, it was not so in captive
individuals. It is probable, however, that the noise serves to
intimidate their enemies."

Another species of Howlers is the Preacher Monkey (_Mycetes Beelzebub_),
an animal about the size of a fox, with long black glossy hair, a round
beard beneath the chin and throat, black glistening eyes, short round
ears, and a long tail. A native of Brazil and Guiana, he derives his
name from the following circumstance: one of these creatures will climb
to the summit of a lofty tree, while numbers gather about the lower
branches. The monkey perched above the rest then raises a loud howl--a
howl so shrill and keen that it is audible at a very great distance;
after a while he pauses, and gives a signal with his hand, whereupon the
entire assembly join in chorus; another signal, and the discord ceases,
while the preacher or singer concludes his inharmonious
exercitation.[174] It is said that this howling faculty is due to the
peculiar conformation of the _os hyoides_, or throat-bone, which,
communicating with the larynx, increases the resonance of the voice.

The Paters, or Red Monkey (_Cercopithecus ruber_), so called from the
bright bay colour of his upper parts, is a native of Senegal.

In Congo and Guinea is found the frolicsome Spotted or Diana Monkey
(_Cercopithecus Diana_), the upper parts of whose body are of a reddish
colour, besprinkled with white spots.

The Mandrill, or Variegated Baboon (_Cynocephalus maimon_), is,
undoubtedly, the most notable of his genus, for various and brilliant
colours. When standing upright he measures fully five feet. His body is
thick and robust, his limbs are firm and muscular; scarcely any forehead
relieves the flatness of his long face; the eyes are small and deeply
sunken in the large head; the projecting cheek-bones are marked with
several deep furrows of purple, scarlet, and violet blue; both the
abrupt muzzle and the lips are large and protuberant. The hair of the
forehead and temples rises in a kind of pyramid, which gives to the head
a triangular appearance; and from the chin hangs a small pointed
orange-yellow beard. His strength, moroseness, and ferocity, render him
a formidable opponent; and as he prowls about in large bands, it is
dangerous for the natives to penetrate into the woods, unless
well-armed, and in numerous companies.

The Derrias (_Cynocephalus hamadryas_), a native of the mountains of
Arabia and Abyssinia, measures upwards of four feet when standing erect,
and about two feet and a half in a sitting posture. The hair of the head
and neck gathers in a long mane, which falls back over the shoulders;
the broad whiskers incline backwards so as to cover the ears. The long
face is of a dirty flesh-colour; long, shaggy, brownish hair covers the
head, neck, shoulders, and all the fore-part of the body. The tail
terminates in a long tuft of brown hair.

Equal in size to, but much stronger than, an English mastiff is the
Chacma, or Pig-faced Baboon (_Cynocephalus porcarius_), of the Cape of
Good Hope, where he inhabits the mountains, and makes frequent forays in
the gardens and plantations around Cape Town. His yells and screams make
night hideous. He wears a sober livery of an uniform dark brown colour,
with long shaggy mane-like hair about his neck and shoulders. His skull
is contracted and flattened, his muzzle extremely prolonged, and the
cheeks of both sexes are ornamented with small grayish whiskers.

       *       *       *       *       *

We must now direct our attention to the Anthropomorphes, or Apes with a
semi-human form, which, of all the Quadrumana, approach nearest to man
in form, stature, internal and external conformation, manners, instinct,
and development of intelligence. They have no tail, and the Gibbons
(_Pithecus lar_), which occupy the lowest rank among them, possess only
the rudiments of ischiatic callosities. Nor are they provided with those
dilatable pouches worn by a great number of other Primates on each side
of the mouth, and named by French naturalists _abajoues_. Their
position, when they move along the ground, is bent rather than erect,
and they assist themselves by their extraordinarily long anterior arms.
These arms, in fact, are much longer than their legs; their thumbs, at
the four extremities, are opposed to the other fingers; the palm of
their hands and the sole of their feet are naked, as well as their face.
The sternum is large and flat; the clavicles are short and well
articulated.

The analogies between the Apes and Man are so striking and so numerous,
and their intelligence, at least in the largest genera, is so superior
to that of other animals, that, without admitting the opinion of the
ancient naturalists who considered them to be degraded or degenerate
men, nor that of certain modern writers, who look upon Man as an
improved Ape, one cannot fail to recognize between them and us a species
of kinship--though it may be very difficult to distinguish the character
and the degree--which imposes itself upon the understanding and the
sentiment of every impartial and attentive observer. The most impassive
hunters who have killed Orangs, Gibbons, Chimpanzees, and Gorillas,
acknowledge that they have never been able to conquer a painful
impression--almost, as it were, a feeling of remorse--when contemplating
the semi-human agony of their victims. This impression, though they may
have succeeded in persuading themselves to the contrary, is not the
effect of an empty or ridiculous sensibility. Everything in nature has
its _raison d'être_--its motive of existence; the relations between the
organism and the faculties are constant and undeniable; and I find it
difficult to believe that the Creator can have formed without object or
purpose beings so extraordinarily similar to man, unless this physical
resemblance corresponds to a more or less definite moral analogy.

The illustrious and devout Linné, whom no one will suspect either of
materialism, or of forgetfulness of the dignity of man, has ranked the
Anthropomorphes in his genus _Homo_, with MAN, whom he specifically
distinguishes by his wholly exceptional faculties, and whom he
denominates _Homo sapiens_, that is, "the wise," or more correctly
speaking, the "thinking man." I must add that Linné at a later period
renounced this quasi-assimilation, and that modern zoologists have
unanimously rejected it.[175]

In the age of Linné, the apes of which we speak were but imperfectly
known. Even now-a-days our information upon the subjects of their
intelligence, manners, and habits, is defective and fragmentary. The
individuals whom we have retained in captivity have died while very
young, and it is impossible to say whether their early mildness and
intelligence would have proved as transitory in them as in the Macaucos
and the Cynocephali, who, as they advance in years, display the most
brutal instincts. In their adult state, the Anthropomorphic Apes have
not been really studied. Travellers have penetrated into their forests
only to attack them with rifle-balls, and have told us but little of the
manner in which they comport themselves. As for the details collected
from natives inhabiting their vicinity, they are so contradictory, and
mixed up with so much which is fabulous, that it is impossible to draw
any conclusions from them in reference to the habits of these animals.

Four distinct genera of the Anthropomorphic Apes are now recognized by
naturalists: two belonging to Southern Asia, or rather the great Indian
Archipelago--viz., the Orang and the Gibbon; two to Tropical
Africa--viz., the Chimpanzee and the Gorilla. I shall describe their
peculiarities in my next chapter.



CHAPTER VII.

THE ANTHROPOMORPHIC APES:--ORANGS, GIBBONS, CHIMPANZEES, AND GORILLAS.


The genus Orang-Outang (_Simia Satyrus_), or "Wild Man of the Woods," is
a native of the islands of Borneo, Sumatra, and Java, and of a limited
portion of the Malayan peninsula. We must dismiss as travellers' fables
the exaggerated recitals which attribute to this Ape a gigantic stature
(six to seven feet). The tallest specimens which have reached Europe
have not exceeded four feet in height. The Orang has short and feeble
lower limbs; but his arms, on the contrary, are very robust, and of such
a length that he can touch the ground while standing upright--a posture,
however, which is neither natural nor convenient for him. His ordinary
mode of locomotion consists in passing from one tree to another by
swinging himself from branch to branch, his progress being as rapid as
that of a swift horse, and his agility not less wonderful than that of
our Leotards and Blondins. His body is covered with coarse reddish hair,
whose shade varies according to his age. It is thick on the head,
shoulders, and body, but thin about the fore-parts. The face has a
bluish cast, and is partly naked; but the eyes sink under bushy,
prominent eye-brows, and the upper lip, chin, and cheeks are garnished
with a sort of longish beard. Naked are the exterior face and palm of
the hands. Where the skin is deprived of hair, its colour is of a hodden
gray.

The Orang-Outang has a large protuberant belly, a flat nose, small ears,
projecting muzzle, long, thin, and very extensible lips. In youth the
forehead projects; but as the creature grows older, it becomes depressed
at the same time that the face lengthens; the face assumes a more
decided bestial type; and the intelligence, lively and quick at first,
declines into obtuseness and atrophy. The head inclines forward; the
neck is short, thick, and seemingly afflicted with gôitre, which is due
to the presence of the pouch called thyroïdian. This pouch, placed above
the sternum, extends beneath the arm-holes, and communicates with the
larynx. When expanded, it is capable of receiving a great quantity of
air, which, being afterwards expelled very slowly, and passing anew
through the vocal organ, produces a dull and prolonged murmur.

The Orangs have now disappeared from Continental India, and even, we are
assured, from Java, so that their chief habitats at present are Borneo
and Sumatra; and here too they are few in number. The genus is rapidly
dying out. Those which remain seek in the dense and marshy forests an
asylum from the attacks of man, and a shelter against the climate.
During the day, they traverse the summits of the trees in quest of
food, for they subsist exclusively upon leaves, young shoots, tender
bark, and fruits. At nightfall they conceal themselves amid the foliage
of some moderately tall tree, or in the great tufts of orchids which
flourish about the arboreal giants. There they make for themselves a
couch like an even floor or platform, garnish it with leaves and
interwoven branches, and stretch themselves upon it, or sit crouching,
to enjoy their slumbers. It is said that when the necessity arises they
spread over themselves a similarly-fashioned canopy as a shelter from
the rain.

The Orang-Outang is timid and inoffensive; he rarely engages in a combat
with his enemies. At times, however, when driven to extremities, he
resorts to his great muscular strength in self-defence, and if he can
succeed in grappling with his antagonist, he rends him to pieces with
his tenacious hands; never using his teeth, although his jaws are very
powerful, and armed with canine teeth capable of inflicting dangerous
wounds. In general, when he feels himself sorely stricken, he hurriedly
climbs to the summit of the loftiest tree within his reach, and if he
finds himself still pursued, he passes on to another. Meanwhile he
utters the most dolorous cries, and vents his impotent rage upon the
tree which serves him for a refuge. One after another he breaks the
greatest branches; but they immediately escape from his grasp, and fall
to the ground. It is this circumstance which has originated the
assertions of many travellers, that the Orang defends himself by hurling
boughs at his aggressors, and even by striking them heavy blows with a
stick. The truth is, that far from protracting his defence by the
expedient his fury prompts him to adopt, he does but expose himself the
more fully to the projectiles directed at him. The stripped tree is no
longer available as a shelter. The Malay hunters, therefore, take no
heed of all this fracas, but patiently wait until the Orang has exposed
himself, to aim their arrows or rifle-balls with the greater certainty.

[Illustration: DEATH OF AN ORANG-OUTANG.]

Several tribes of Borneo manifest a strange partiality for the flesh of
the Orangs, and eat it as a great dainty, either roasting it over a
fire, or cutting it into steaks and drying it in the sun. The Indians
make use of his skin for helmets and caps of fantastic device, which
they don upon festival days, or to give themselves, when necessary, a
formidable air.

The habitat of the Gibbons (_Hylobates_) is more extensive in range than
that of the Orangs. They are found not only in Sumatra, in Borneo, in
the Celebes and Philippine Islands, but in considerable portions of the
two peninsulas within and beyond the Ganges. In size they are inferior
to the Anthropomorphes, their stature not exceeding three feet. Their
head is small and rounded, their muzzle does but slightly project, and
their face wears a pleasanter expression than that of the great apes of
the same group. A sort of thick black or very dark fur, with
occasionally patches of white, enwraps their entire body. They have arms
and hands of extraordinary length, but a slightly developed belly. They
live upon the forest-trees, which they traverse without ever descending
to the ground, exhibiting a marvellous agility and suppleness. They are
completely frugivorous; their manners are gentle; their intelligence
they retain, and even develop, after they have attained maturity.
Although they should be captured after they have passed their youth,
they easily become domesticated, and display a loyal affection towards
their masters. Unfortunately the climate of Europe, and perhaps, in
particular, the atmosphere of menageries, proves fatal to them, and
those individuals placed in the Zoological Gardens of London and Paris
succumb, after a brief residence, to dysentery or pulmonary disease.

The genus Gibbon comprises several species: the _Gibbon-Siamang_
(_Hylobates syndactylus_) is the greatest of which we have any
knowledge. Black is he as ebony, both in face and hair. His thyroïdian
pouch is very large, and of great expansive powers. By means of this
ungainly organ he utters the most horrible, deafening, and prolonged
cries, which, it is said, can be heard for several leagues around. He is
common enough in Sumatra, inhabiting the dense wild woods which lie to
the north of Bencoolen. He owes his characteristic epithet of
_syndactylus_ to the fact that the index and middle finger of his
hind-feet (or shall I say, hands?) are united ([Greek: syn]) by a
narrow membrane, which extends even to the base of the ungueal phalange.

The Gibbon-Lar (_Hylobates_ or _Pythecus Lar_) is smaller than the
preceding. His skin is of a blackish-brown, with the four extremities
and the framing of the face white. He ranges over the peninsula of
Malacca, and, according to some travellers, the kingdom of Siam.

[Illustration: GIBBON-SIAMANG AND MOURNING GIBBON.]

The Wou-Wou, or Silvery Gibbon (_Hylobates leuciscus_), another Malayan
species, commends himself to our notice by the silvery gray of his skin
on the upper parts of the body and the outer sides of the anus and legs.
His name of "Wou-Wou" is intended to describe his peculiar utterance--a
kind of clucking totally unlike the howlings of the other gibbons.

Ashen-gray is the colour of the skin of the Mourning Gibbon (_Hylobates
funereus_) on the external sides of his limbs, while the belly and
contour of the face, and the inner parts, are of a blackish hue.

The _Hylobates cinereus_ is of an uniform cindery-gray. He inhabits the
Sunda Islands, and principally Java, and numerous individuals of his
species have been imported into Europe. His disposition is gentle and
affectionate; he quickly familiarizes himself with the persons who
approach him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The genus Chimpanzee (_Pithecus troglodytes_) is by some later
naturalists preferred to that foremost place among the Quadrumana in
which Cuvier had installed the orang-outang. He certainly approaches the
nearest--though _longo intervallo_--to man, of all his race. He was long
confounded with other Anthropomorphous genera, under the vague name of
"Man of the Woods" (_Homo sylvestris_). It would appear to have been the
Chimpanzee that Buffon had in his "mind's eye" when describing his
Jocko; although that ideal variety of shaggy men, with flat, oval
visage, long legs, tall and erect figure, which stands before us in the
great naturalist's pages, bears but little resemblance to the animal we
have seen in the Zoological Gardens, or the more faithful and judicious
portrait drawn by modern travellers. But the name of Jocko is evidently
a corruption of that of _Enge-eko_, which the negroes of the Gaboon
bestow upon the Chimpanzee, just as the latter appellation is an
imperfect reproduction of that of _Quimpezé_, in use among the negroes
of Angola.

Putting aside these speculations, we see that the only well-defined
species of this genus is the black Chimpanzee (_Troglodytes niger_ of
the present nomenclature, _Pygmea_ of Tyson). His home is the forests of
the Gaboon, the coast of Angola, and Guinea. His face is larger and
flatter than that of the orang. He has large ears, but shaped like those
of men. On the head, shoulders, and back, he wears a coat of long black
hair; his legs are short, and his arms very long; yet he is better able
to walk like a biped than the macaucos, or even the orangs and the
gibbons. Of all the Simidæ, he alone has calves to his legs. He has
neither tail, ischiatic callosities, _abajoues_, nor thyroïdian pouch.
The hair of his head is parted on the summit, and falls down on either
side, surrounding the ear and jaws, and mingling with that of the neck.
His bare, wrinkled face is of a light copper colour; so are the palms of
his hands, and his fingers, but his nails are generally black.

The highest stature to which the Chimpanzee can attain is about four and
a half feet; but as he never stands absolutely erect, he appears much
shorter. His small eyes, deep sunken in their orbits, are of a dark
hazel colour. The cranium, even in young specimens, is depressed, and
presents, in advance of a low receding forehead, a projecting
superciliary ridge. As the animal advances in years, his muzzle
lengthens, his jaws develop, his skull grows more depressed; at the same
time his intelligence gradually disappears, his manners become fiercer,
and his disposition less tractable; in a word, the instincts of the
brute regain their supremacy. Such, at least, is the statement of the
best accredited authorities; as for the individuals imported into
Europe, they invariably die at too early an age for any one to study
their habits and character in maturity.

The Chimpanzees live, it is said, in troops in the forests, or at least
they congregate for the purpose of repelling the attacks made upon them
by the carnaria, and to drive from their domains such other animals as
may attempt to install themselves therein to their disadvantage. Their
weapons are ready to their hand--stones and the branches of trees. Their
diet is essentially a frugivorous one; yet they will occasionally
indulge in a lizard or two, or any other reptile. Like the orangs, they
construct rude beds or couches, of interwoven boughs stripped of their
greenery. The negroes of Guinea, scarcely much higher in the scale of
intelligence than themselves, look upon them as a _nation_, and believe
that if these Men of the Woods do not speak, it is because they fear to
be condemned to work or carried off into slavery, and not from
incapacity.

A recent traveller, whose adventures have been the subject of much
discussion, and who for a considerable period enjoyed the reputation of
a Mendez Pinto or a Munchausen, asserts that he discovered at the
Gaboon two new species of Chimpanzees. One, called by the natives
_Nshiégo-Mbouvé_, and to which he gave the scientific name of
_Troglodytes calvus_, builds for himself some leafy screens of quite
artistic construction upon isolated trees. He is smaller than the
ordinary Chimpanzee, and _bald_.

The other species distinguished by M. Du Chaillu[176] is the
_Kooloo-Kamba_. He is distinguished from all his congeners by a very
peculiar cry. While offering a general resemblance to man, he approaches
him more nearly in certain respects than all the other known apes. His
head is very remarkable, and presents a curious analogy to that of an
Esquimaux or a Chinese. His face is hairless, and wholly black. The
forehead is loftier than that of any of his congeners, and the capacity
of his skull is also greater in proportion to his height. A wider space
occurs between his eyes than is customary with the great Simiadæ. He has
a flattened nose, high projecting cheek-bones, hollow cheeks, and a
well-marked orbitary arch. The muzzle is less prominent, and larger in
proportion than that of other apes. Both sides of his face are
ornamented with straight tufts of hair, which, joining below the chin
like whiskers, communicate a strange human character to the whole
countenance. His arms descend below his knees. All the body is hairy.
The shoulders are broad, the hands long and narrow, and well adapted for
climbing trees. Both arm and hand are exceedingly muscular; the abdomen
is very prominent. The ample ears rather resemble those of a man than
the ears of any other ape.

       *       *       *       *       *

Our peregrinations now bring us to the giant of the Quadrumana, the true
king of the forests of Equatorial Africa; in a word, to the _Gorilla_,
whom Buffon has described under the name of _Pongo_, almost as exactly
as he pictured the Chimpanzee under that of _Jacko_.

We cannot be said to have known the Gorilla for more than a quarter of a
century.

It was in 1847 that Dr. Savage, an American missionary, recognized the
Pongo as a species of the genus Troglodytes, distinct from the
Chimpanzee, and named him _Troglodytes Gorilla_, in allusion to the
celebrated narrative of the Carthaginian Hanno relative to the pretended
female Gorillas which that navigator professed to have seen in an island
of the Gulf of Guinea. Since that period the Gorilla has been carefully
studied by the eminent naturalist Professor Owen. Messieurs Gautier and
Franquet, French naval surgeons, collected some important information
upon the habits and physiology of this great ape, and M. Franquet
procured for the Paris Museum the skeleton of an adult Gorilla. Other
dead and preserved specimens have since been imported into England and
France, and the anatomy of this African Troglodytes is accurately known.
And, finally, M. Du Chaillu, in the work already quoted, has supplied
numerous strange and interesting details, which, if at first discredited
and contested, are now very generally accepted as strictly accurate.

The name of "Pongo," applied to the Gorilla by Battel and Buffon, is
clearly a modification or corruption of that of the tribe of Mpongwéss,
who dwell on the banks of the Gaboon, not far from the forests tenanted
by this mysterious Quadrumane.

The Mpongwéss negroes call the Chimpanzee _Enge-eko_, and the Gorilla
_Enge-ena_; whence the surname of "Gina," linked to the zoological
appellation of "Gorilla"--_Gorilla-Gina_.

The Gorilla appears to be confined in the dense wooded regions of Lower
Guinea, where he shuns, and, if needs be, repels the approach of man and
that of the carnivorous animals, as well as of all those who attempt to
penetrate into his retreats. Fierce and savage is he in his every
custom; but it has never been satisfactorily demonstrated that he acts
on the aggressive. He is not the less an object of extreme terror to his
negro neighbours, on account of his extraordinary strength; and much
more, perhaps, owing to the fantastic legends that have grown up about
his name. His stature exceeds four, and sometimes attains, it is said,
to upwards of six feet. The most salient characteristics of his head are
the great width and elongation of the face, the development of the lower
jaw, and the smallness of the osseous framework, which surrounded by a
very elevated orbitary arch, whence proceeds a second ridge dominating
over all the upper part of the skull. The nose is flat, the eye
deep-sunken in its orbit, the ear small, the mouth very large. The lips,
especially the lower one, are long and very extensible. The expression
of the face is terrible, reminding one of Coleridge's painful picture of
a man-monster; and especially terrible when the animal raises the shaggy
skin, and reveals the enormous fangs which bristle in his jaws.

His neck is thick, and so short, that the head seems grafted directly
upon the shoulders. The latter are of formidable breadth, and his vast
chest resounds like a drum when he beats it with his powerful fists,
raising himself upright on his feet--an action which is with him a sign
of mistrust, hatred, and indignation. He has a large expanded belly,
like that of the orang and chimpanzee. His skin is of a deep black,
naked on the face and on the palm of the hands, but elsewhere clothed
with a rough iron-gray or brown-black hair.

The breast of the male adult is hairless, like that of the female. With
the former the hair of the back is worn off, owing to his habit of
sleeping on the ground supported against a tree. This peculiarity,
according to M. Du Chaillu, is only seen in the female when she has
attained an advanced age, in which case it would seem to be owing to the
fact that, having no longer her infants to shelter among the branches,
she sleeps in the same fashion as the male.

The natural walk of the Gorilla is not upon two feet, but upon four
paws. In this posture, owing to the length of his arms, his head and
chest are much elevated. When he runs, his hind-legs are brought up
under the body. The arm and the leg on the same side move
simultaneously, which gives the animal a curious and awkward gait. He
runs, however, with extreme swiftness.

Despite the strength of his jaws, despite his enormous canine teeth, the
Gorilla is exclusively frugivorous; but as he stands in need of abundant
nourishment, he is compelled to change his quarters incessantly. His
habits, therefore, are essentially nomadic. He is not gregarious. M. Du
Chaillu affirms that he has never seen but a couple of adults together,
the male and the female; sometimes an aged male wanders about alone. Of
the young, as many as five will occasionally be found in company. It is
a difficult matter to approach them, for their hearing is very keen, and
when alarmed they immediately take to flight, while the nature of the
ground embarrasses the hunter in his pursuit.

Every hunter who understands his _métier_ will reserve his fire, when
chasing the Gorilla, until the last moment. Whether the furious beast
takes the report for a threatening defiance, or from some other unknown
cause, if the hunter fires and misses, the Gorilla immediately pounces
upon him, and no one can withstand the force of his attack. A single
blow of his enormous foot, armed as it is with most formidable claws,
eviscerates a man, smashes in his chest, or batters his skull. Negroes
in a like situation have been seen, reduced to despair by terror, to
turn upon the Gorilla and aim at him their discharged musket; but they
have not even the time to level an inoffensive blow; the arm of their
antagonist falls upon them with all its weight, shattering at once both
arm and gun. I know of no animal whose attack is so fatal to man, for
the reason that he dares to confront him face to face, with his arms for
weapons of offence, exactly like a boxer, with the exception that he has
the advantage of longer arms, and a vigour far surpassing that of any
athlete who has ever claimed the suffrages of the ring. Fortunately, the
Gorilla dies as easily as a man. A blow in the chest, if well-directed,
immediately lays him low. He falls forward on his face, his arms widely
extended, and heaving with his last breath a frightful dying cry, half
roar, half wail, which though a signal of safety for the hunter,
nevertheless resounds painfully in his ear, like the supreme utterance
of human agony.[177]

[Illustration: A GORILLA KILLING A NEGRO.]

The negroes of the Gaboon are generally very partial to the flesh of the
Gorilla, as well as to that of the other great apes, although it is, in
sooth, of a leathery character. This partiality need not surprise us on
the part of a race which too frequently indulge in a horrible banquet
off their own kind. It has been observed that those tribes which are not
cannibal do not share the liking of their neighbours for the flesh of
the Gorilla or the Chimpanzee; many even shrink from it with peculiar
horror, on account of the kinship existing, as they believe, between
these apes and man,--and the superstitious creed which represent these
animals as supernatural beings, whose bodies are the refuge of the souls
of their relatives, or of their friends, labouring for their crimes
under an eternal curse!



CHAPTER VIII.

ANIMAL LIFE IN THE FORESTS:--THE CEBIDÆ, OR MONKEYS OF AMERICA--THE
LEMURS--THE SLOTHS--THE SQUIRRELS.


The Ancient Continent possesses, in addition to the great apes of which
I have already spoken, the Macaucos, the Cynocephali, and the
Anthropomorphes, other apes of more erect, and one might even say more
elegant figures, essentially climbers, and provided with a long, but not
prehensile tail. Such are the Semnopitheci and the Monkeys of the
African forests, of India and Indo-China, of Japan and the Indian
Archipelago. These two latter groups approximate, by their external
forms, to the apes of the New World; divided by Buffon into Sagouins and
Sapajous, but re-united in the new classification of naturalists under
one single family, named _Cebidæ_. These--one genus, the Brachiura,
excepted--have all a very long, and, generally, a prehensile tail. They
differ, moreover, from the Simidæ of the Old World in the disposition of
their nostrils, which are always open laterally, and separated by a
thick depressed membrane; in such wise, that it might also be affirmed
they were gifted with two noses! By nature they are of a gentle and
placable disposition, readily domesticate themselves with man, and do
not become in their old age more impracticable or malicious than in
youth.

The Cebidæ are divided into several genera, such as the _Howlers_, the
_Atelæ_, the _Sajous_, the _Saïmris_, the _Nyctipitheci_, or Nocturnal
Apes; to which we may add, perhaps, the tribe of the _Hapalidæ_
(Ouistitis and Tamarins).

[Illustration: HOWLING MONKEYS.]

To the _Howling Monkeys_ we have found it convenient to refer in a
preceding chapter, and it is almost needless to remind the reader that
they owe their distinctive name to their habit of assembling in the
woods, and startling the echoes with a chorus of unearthly noises. They
chiefly inhabit New Grenada, Guiana, Brazil, and Paraguay, where, night
and morning, their discordant orchestra strikes terror to the soul of
the unaccustomed traveller.

I have already said that the tail of nearly all the American Cebidæ is
long and prehensile; that is, endowed with a peculiar faculty of winding
or clinging round any object.

[Illustration: ATELES CROSSING A RIVER.]

In the genus _Ateles_, or "Spider Monkey," for example, it virtually
forms a fifth limb, by whose agency the animal suspends himself in the
air, and darts from one tree to another with more than the agility of a
Leotard. It amply compensates for the imperfection with which Nature has
afflicted him by leaving his fore-paws deprived of thumbs. He owes his
popular designation of the Spider Monkey to his long slender limbs and
sprawling gestures. In the colour of his skin, his methodical slowness,
and the suppleness of his movements, he resembles the gibbons. Of all
animals he alone has the biceps of the thigh resembling that of man. He
is fond of the society of his kind, and mainly subsists on insects,
small fish, and molluscs, which he catches with all the address of a
practised angler. Travellers affirm that he frequently crosses the wide
American rivers without descending to the ground. He and his comrades
form a living chain, which hangs suspended from a lofty branch, and, by
a series of more or less nimble movements, succeeds in _hooking itself
on_ to a tree on the other side. This chain serves at first as a flying
bridge for the whole troop; then it accomplishes its own passage, by
detaching itself from its point of suspension to fall back on the
opposite bank. The tale, however, has an improbable air about it, which
makes a large demand on the reader's belief.

It is from South America, and notably from Brazil and Guiana, that we
import into Europe the apes most valued by our itinerant mountebanks and
by zoological amateurs, on account of their gentleness, their
domesticity, their intelligence, and their singular instinct of
imitation--almost amounting to genius--which renders them wonderfully
apt in the performance of all kinds of tricks and amusing exercises.
Nearly all these apes belong to the very numerous genus of _Sajous_, or
_Sapajous_.

Thus we have the Squirrel Monkey (_Callithrix sciurus_), not much larger
than the animal whose name he bears, and infinitely more nimble and
diverting. He is of a bright golden yellow colour, with feet and hands
of a deeper yellow. His head is round, with a blackish nose, and hairy
ears. His tail is very long, and tipped with black. The nails of his
hands are flat, while those of his feet resemble claws.

The Ouistitis, which are frequently imported into Europe, are very
pretty animals, clad in a soft kind of fur, and with their ears
ornamented by long brush-like tufts of black or white hairs. They are
very easily tamed, are mild and intelligent, and, owing to their small
size, conveniently kept in apartments; but they do not acclimatize in
Europe, and, even if they survive the voyage, die very shortly after
their arrival.

Linné has given the name of _Lemurs_, which modern naturalists have also
adopted, to a race of quadrumanous animals approximating in many
particulars to the Monkey tribe, but forming, nevertheless, a perfectly
distinct zoological family. It comprises five genera: one, that of the
Galagos, belongs to Africa; two inhabit India and the neighbouring
islands--namely, the Loris and the Tarsii; and, finally, two others, the
Makis and the Indris, are exclusively confined to Madagascar, where they
occupy the same position as the Apes properly so called on the
continent.

The Galagos are distinguished by their great eyes, their large
membranous ears, which double down when the animal is at rest, their
extraordinary long hind limbs, and their long and tufted tail. In size
they vary from that of a rat to that of a rabbit. The _Senegal Galagos_,
or Gum animals of Senegal (_Galago Senegalensis_), have, at night, all
the activity of birds, hopping from bough to bough on their hind limbs
only. They watch the insects flitting among the leaves, listen to the
fluttering moth as it darts through the air, and leap upon it with
arrow-like rapidity, seldom missing their prize, which is caught by the
hands. Their nests are made in the branches of the trees, and they cover
a bed for their young with grass and leaves.

What shall I say of the _Loris_? Two species only are known, and both
are natives of the East Indian world: the Short-limbed Loris (_Lemur
tardigradus_), and the Slender Loris (_Lemur gracilis_), the latter
being readily recognized by the disproportionate length of his limbs,
and, especially, of his fore-arms. They live in the trees; feeding on
insects, or, as a relish, on small birds and quadrupeds; and going forth
at night in search of their prey. They have a short muzzle, slender
body, no tail, rough tongue, and large staring eyes, placed very near
each other. Their ears are short, scarcely rising through the hair in
which they are embedded; the nostrils project beyond the mouth, and are
surrounded by a naked muzzle; and the thumbs are widely separated from
the fingers, both on the fore and hinder hands.

Of the _Tarsii_ it is enough to say that they are insectivorous, like
the loris, and that their hind limbs are similarly disproportionate. The
tail is long and tufted; the large, fixed, glaring eyes mark them out as
addicted to nocturnal habits. They leap about two feet at a spring, and
by day conceal themselves under the roots of trees. Two species are
distinguished: the _Tarsius fuscomanus_ of Fischer, and the _Tarsius
bancanus_ of Horsfield.

The _Makis_ approach the nearest of all the Lemuridæ to the superior
Quadrumana. They have, however, like their congeners, opposite fingers
on the hind feet. The Short-tailed Indri bears even some slight
resemblance to man, in the shortness of his tail, the length of his
legs, and his altitude. The Malagasy call him the "Man of the Woods,"
although he has a pointed muzzle and trumpet-shaped ears on the summit
of the head. He is the largest of the Lemuridæ, attaining, when erect,
the height of three feet. His skin is soft, and clothed in long fine
hair; whence naturalists have named him _Indris laniger_. Very gentle in
disposition, he is easily tamed, although endowed with only moderate
intelligence. It is said that he can be trained to the chase.

The Maki, like the Short-tailed Indri, has a thin elongated muzzle;
otherwise, in form, he approximates more closely to the Ratans or the
Coatis than to the Apes. Their ears are small and round, lateral, and
almost entirely hidden in the hair; they carry a tail of notable length;
their fur is thick and soft. The thumb of their anterior paws is nearly
as "opposable" as that of the posterior. To sum up: they are graceful
little animals, precisely because we do not find in them those grotesque
features and that eccentric conformation which render the apes, even the
most favoured by Nature, offensive caricatures of man. They are lively
and agile; they climb, run, and leap with as much grace as nimbleness.
Their habits are nocturnal, as the development of their eyes
sufficiently indicates. They subsist on fruits and insects. Their
manners are gentle; they accustom themselves to captivity with great
readiness, and soon grow familiar; but they do not equal the apes in
intelligence. This genus comprehends several species. I shall specify
the _Maki-Mocoas_, which is of a cindery-gray, with the cheeks and
throat white, and the tail marked with regular black rings; the
_White-Mantled Maki_, whose muzzle, shoulders, and tail are black, and
the rest of the body of a pure white; the _Red Maki_, very remarkable
for the brightness of his colours, for his body is of a lively red, the
upper part of his neck and head white, as well as the extremities of his
legs; and, finally, his belly and tail are black. Other species have
been distinguished, as the Red-bellied Maki, the Yellow-bellied, the
Maki with the white forehead, and the like.

[Illustration: 1. Maki-Mocoas. 2. White-Mantled Maki.]

       *       *       *       *       *

To the Fauna of the Madagascar forests also belongs an extremely rare
animal, few specimens of which have been brought into Europe. After some
hesitation our naturalists have agreed to refer it to the order of
Primates, although its general appearance and its system of dentition
caused it at first to be taken for a kind of large squirrel; while, on
the other hand, the form and disposition of its thin fingers, and the
development of its nails, liken it to the sloths. This animal is the
Aye-Aye, or _Cheiromys Madagascariensis_. The characters which have
determined its annexations to the order of Primates are, principally,
the presence of opposable thumbs on the hind-paws; the terminal position
of the nostrils; the oblique direction of the eyes, and the absence of a
vertical fissure on the upper lip. Its habits are not well known; but it
is a burrowing animal, very slothful, and goes abroad at night. It has
large flat ears, like a bat's, and a tail like a squirrel's; but its
peculiarity is the middle toe or finger of the fore-foot, whose two last
joints are very long, slender, and destitute of hair. From nose to tail
it measures about eighteen inches, and its general colour is a pale
ferruginous brown, mixed with gray.

Sonnerat, who discovered the aye-aye in his expedition to Madagascar, at
the close of the last century, succeeded in obtaining a couple of
specimens, which he kept alive for two months. "I nourished them," he
says, "upon cooked rice, and they make use, in eating, of the thin
fingers of their fore-feet, just as the Chinese do of their chopsticks.
They seemed always drowsy, resting with the head placed between the
fore-paws, and it was only by shaking them several times we could get
them to move." This torpid condition, however, was it the effect of
confinement or of natural apathy? If due to the latter, it would be
another point of approximation between the aye-aye and the sloths, which
some naturalists have also inclined to rank among the Primates.

Other authors have placed those latter quadrupeds in an order apart,
under the name of "Tardigrades;" but most scientific zoologists now
classify them with the Edentata, and form them into the family of
Bradypes or Bradypidæ. Undoubtedly the sloth, or aï, is an animal of
curious and uncouth appearance; in general conformation not unlike the
bear, to which he also approaches in the form of his head, and in
deficiency of tail, while his long rough hair, coarse and shaggy, like
dry withered grass, recalls the fur of the ant-eater. The most singular
peculiarity of his organization is the structure of the feet, whose
strong crooked claws, to the number of three or more in each limb, are
so linked together that they cannot be moved separately.

[Illustration: CHEIROMYS, OR AYE-AYE OF MADAGASCAR.]

The name of "Sloth" popularly bestowed on this animal is not so
well-deserved as some writers of Zoology made Easy have represented. It
is true that his progress on the ground is made with difficulty and
slowness; but in the trees, his customary sojourn, he displays
considerable address, and transports himself easily from tree to tree.
"He moves suspended from the branch," says Waterton, "he rests suspended
from the branch, and he sleeps suspended from the branch. Hence his
seemingly bungled composition is at once accounted for; and in lieu of
the sloth leading a painful life, and entailing a miserable existence
upon his progeny, it is but fair to conclude that he just enjoys life as
much as any other animal, and that his extraordinary formation and
singular habits are but further proofs to engage us to admire the
wonderful works of Omnipotence."

Dr. Lund says of the Three-toed Sloth (_Bradypus torquatus_) that he
climbs with remarkable sureness and aptitude. The manner in which he
moves is thus:--Lying on his belly, with all his four extremities
stretched out from his body, he first presses one of his hind-feet with
all its might against the ground, whereby the corresponding side of the
body is slightly raised. The fore-leg on the same side thus becomes
sufficiently free for the animal to move it a little in advance. He then
hooks his powerful claws fast in the earth, and so drags his body a
little onwards. The same manoeuvre is next repeated on the opposite
side; and thus the poor animal progresses in the slowest and most
laborious manner. But though his organization unfits him for terrestrial
locomotion, it is wonderfully adapted, as I have said, to climbing
trees. With his long arms he reaches high up, and clings fast to the
bough with crooked claws. The _inverted_ position of the soles of his
hind-feet gives him a power of _clutching_ the trunk of the tree which
no other mammal possesses; so that truly when we see him climbing a
tree, we can scarcely believe it to be the same animal that lies so
helpless on the ground. Hence we see that the sloth's organization is
wholly adapted for living in trees. Compared with the slowness of his
motions, he is the best climber among mammals, while he is the worst
walker; or rather, he is the only mammal that can neither walk nor
stand.

The Bradypes family is peculiar to South America. It includes but two
genera, whose types are the _Chalypus-Unau_ and the _Bradypus-Ai_. The
Unau, or Two-toed Sloth, is found in the forests of Peru, Guiana, and
Columbia. His length is from twenty to thirty inches. He has a large
head; long and dry hair, of a grayish-brown. During the day he sees very
imperfectly, and therefore passes most of his time asleep upon a tree,
where he may be seen clinging by three of his feet to a bough, and
making use of the fourth to reach and convey to his mouth the food on
which he lives. The Aï is more indolent in his habits than the Unau,
from which he differs rather in his anatomical and osteological
characteristics than in his aspect and conformation. He may, however, be
recognized by his rudimentary tail, his flattened visage, and the long
frizzled hair which covers certain parts of the body.

[Illustration: 1. Aï (Two-toed Sloth). 2. Unau (Three-toed Sloth).]

We have seen that the aye-aye may be considered as connecting the
Quadrumana with the Bradypes, on the one hand, and the squirrels on the
other. These two groups, however, exhibit a very striking contrast
between their habits and disposition; and since to animals of the former
the name has been given of "Sloths," the latter might justly be
designated "the Active." If there exist, indeed, any animals for whom
_movement_ is a vital necessity, these, assuredly, are the squirrels.
They climb trees with great agility, and leap from one branch to another
with a marvellous vigour and precision. On the ground, they trot rather
than run. They are essentially graminivorous and frugivorous; nuts,
fruits, seeds, the young stems of trees, forming their chief
nourishment, though at times they plunder birds' nests, and regale
themselves with the eggs or even the "callow brood."

[Illustration: COMMON EUROPEAN SQUIRRELS.]

The Squirrel (_Sciurus_) belongs to the family _Sciuridæ_, in the order
Rodentia. Their special characteristics may be enumerated as a long
bushy tail, generally carried curved over the body, whence the Greek
name Skiouros ([Greek: skia], a shade, and [Greek: oura], a tail),
fore-paws furnished with four toes, which have curved claws, and a
tubercular thumb; long hind-legs, the feet provided with five toes; two
incisors in each jaw; and four molar teeth on each side of each jaw,
simple, with tuberculous crowns, and a fifth in front of the upper jaw,
which soon falls out. The squirrel's fur, thick and soft, is of a bright
reddish-brown colour, more or less varied with gray; with a snow-white
belly and breast, and a tail brown, or almost black. The ears are
ornamented with long tufts of hair. The eyes, directed laterally, are
black and lively, shining with subdued mischief; the legs are short and
muscular; and when on the ground the animal moves by a succession of
leaps, the tail being undulating and extended. He lives constantly in
the forest, selecting a particular tree, where he builds his nest,
either in a hollow of the trunk or among the branches. In the latter
case he builds himself a sort of cabin, with twigs and stems, artfully
concealed beneath a covering of moss and fragments of bark. There he
lives "by his ain fireside," in the company of his mate and their young
ones, collecting an abundant magazine of nuts and acorns for their
winter provision. In the spring and summer he loves to gambol among the
leafy boughs, climbing up and down the forest trees, and uttering a
short quick stuccato cry, like the sound which we produce by clacking
the tongue against the palate. If you attempt to seize him, he bites
sharply, and scratches like a cat. He is nevertheless easily tamed, and
his engaging manners, his amusing gambols, and constant liveliness, make
him a great favourite among our "domestic pets." He soon grows
accustomed to his cage, and after a brief interval of liberty returns to
it of his own accord.

The Common Squirrel (_Sciurus vulgaris_) is found all over Europe, North
America, and the Northern and Temperate regions of Asia. He is about
eight inches and a-half in length, without the tail, which measures
fully six inches long. In Lapland and Sweden his colour changes to gray
in the winter season; in the snowy wastes of Siberia, he is frequently
seen of a pure white.

The only other European species is the Alpine Squirrel (_Sciurus
Alpinus_), a native of the Alps and Pyrenees, of a deep brown colour,
speckled with yellowish-white.

To North America belongs the Gray Squirrel (_Sciurus Carolinensis_),
where he enjoys his free and sportive life in the great forests of
hickory, oak, maple, and chestnut. His whole length, including the tail,
is about two feet. As he forays plentifully among the corn-fields, the
inhabitants regard him as a scourge, and wage deadly war against him.
Like the lemming, he migrates about autumn, in immense hosts; advancing
in a straight course, which no obstacle is permitted to interrupt, and
spreading desolation, like the course of an invading army.

The large species of the Fox Squirrel (_Sciurus vulpinus_) belongs
exclusively to the "murmurous pine-woods" of South America. The Cat
Squirrel (_Sciurus cinereus_) is remarkable for the exquisite fineness
of his fur. In the neighbourhood of Hudson's Bay dwells the Red or
Hudson's Bay Squirrel (_Sciurus Hudsonius_), marked along the middle of
the back by a ferruginous line from head to tail, with the belly of a
pale ash-colour, mottled with black.

In the northern districts of Africa we meet with the Barbary Squirrel
(_Sciurus getulus_), which dwells among the palm-trees, and is of a
grayish-brown colour, lightly shaded with red, with two white
longitudinal bands separated by a brown streak. Cross to the eastern
coast, and there we find the Abyssinian Squirrel, which has a
greenish-gray back, white belly, and tail ringed with black and white;
on the western side, the Ivory-eating Squirrel, which nibbles the tusks
of elephants killed by hunters; and the Kendo Squirrel, one of the
smallest known. The two latter species were discovered and specified by
M. Du Chaillu, who has named the former _Sciurus eborivorus_, and the
latter _Sciurus minutus_.

Among the Indian Squirrels I may name the great Malabar Squirrel
(_Sciurus maximus_), less remarkable for his size, which is more than
double that of the European Squirrel, than for the variety and vivacity
of his colours. On the upper part of the head, the flanks, and thighs
are of a chestnut purple; the shoulders, hind-quarters, and tail of a
glossy black; the belly and inner sides of the limbs, a pale yellow.

Zoologists have classified in two genera, distinct from the true
Squirrels, under the names of _Pteromys_ and _Sciuroptera_, the animals
popularly called "Flying Squirrels." The first of these genera is
proper to Southern Asia; the second comprehends the species common to
Asia and Eastern Europe, others which are exclusively Asiatic, and
others which are only met with in North America.

These Sciuridæ have no wings and no capacity of flight; but their
anterior and posterior limbs are connected on either side by a membrane,
which is really nothing but a fold of skin, and which they extend by
spreading out their paws so as to present to the air a considerable
surface. By means of this kind of parachute, they can cross, by leaping
from one tree to another, an extensive area. My space only permits me to
allude to the Virginian Flying Squirrel (_Pteromys volucella_), and the
Common Flying Squirrel (_Pteromys volans_). The former is about five
inches long, with a tail four inches; of a subferruginous brown colour
above, and a yellowish-white beneath; the edges of the flying membrane
are of a deeper tint than the rest of the fur, contrasting with the
white border of the under part. He is naturally of a gregarious
disposition, and ten or twelve may be seen in company, flying from tree
to tree. In case of need he can swim like other quadrupeds, and yet, on
quitting the water, can resume his aërial motion. He feeds on fruits,
nuts, and young leaves and twigs; is of an affectionate nature, and
easily domesticated.

The Common Flying Squirrel (_Pteromys volans_) belongs to the
northernmost regions, and his favourite haunt is the pine and birch
woods of Siberia. On the upper parts his colour is a pale gray, on the
under a milky white. Measured from the nose to the tail, his length is
six inches; and the tail, which is thickly furred and slightly
flattened, is somewhat shorter than the body. He flies, or rather
springs, through the agency of an expansile furry membrane, reaching, as
I have stated, from the fore-feet to the hind. He builds his nest of the
finest mosses in the hollows of the old forest trees; is a solitary
animal emerging from his retreat only at the approach of the gloaming;
feeds on young buds and catkins; and springs from one tree to another
with astonishing velocity.

The _Pteromys splendens_ belongs to Java and Borneo: his body is clothed
in fur of a warm red hue. The _Sciuroptera Polatouche_, which inhabits
the north of Europe and Asia, is of an ashen gray on the upper, and of a
snowy white on the inferior parts.

Some species of _Sciuridæ_ seldom ascend trees, but burrow on the
ground, and are further distinguished by their possession of
cheek-pouches. They form the genus _Tamias_. The best known is the
Chipping Squirrel, Hacker, or Chipmuck (_Tamias Lysteri_), which abounds
in the United States as far north as the fiftieth parallel, and derives
his name from his peculiar _chipping_ or _cheeping_ cry, like that of a
young chicken. He burrows near the roots of trees, and several squirrels
frequently tenant one burrow, where they lay up stores of nuts and grain
for winter supply. His length is fully ten inches; the general colour
gray, longitudinally striped with yellowish-white and black.



CHAPTER IX.

MAN IN THE SAVANNAHS AND THE FORESTS.--ANTHROPOPHAGY.


In the Steppes and Deserts of Sand we have seen men ignorant and wild,
semi-brutalized in manner and tastes, and miserable in condition: some
sedentary and peaceful, cultivating with laborious care an ungrateful
soil; others, and by far the greater number, nomadic and pastoral in
their habits; and others, again, living partly on the product of their
herds, partly on the plunder obtained by a life of piracy. But between
these races and civilized nations there still exist some analogies of
belief, of polity, of social economy. In the sacred codes which fill,
for them, the place of our elaborate legal and political systems, lofty
precepts of justice and charity, salutary rules of morality and hygiène,
mingle with barbarous customs and absurd or superstitious practices.
Their religions, founded, like Christianity itself, on the idea of a
Divine unity, a God of mercy and punishment, they hold in common with
peoples who have left their mark on the history of the world, and to
whom, moreover, they are attached by close ties of consanguinity.

Widely different is the man of the Prairies and the Forests, the
_Savage_, who even to our own days has remained plunged in the lowest
depths of social, intellectual, and moral development. Differing the one
from the other, according to the country which they inhabit, the colour
of the skin, the features of the countenance, and sometimes the forms
and outlines of the body, savages everywhere approximate very closely in
the general character of their instincts, sentiments, and ideas, and
represent to us that early condition of humanity from which it has only
been elevated by the Divine impulse and for the Divine purposes.

Assuredly it is not these whom Bonald has in view when he defines Man as
"an intelligence served by organs;" for with them the respective parts
of the mind and the body are inverted, and the first is the very humble
servant of the second; its sphere of activity, accordingly, is very much
restricted. War, the chase, the coarse pleasures of the banquet, the
dance--and what a wild, barbarous, sensual dance it is!--the recital and
glorification of the deeds of their ancestors, their nation, and
themselves, mingled with marvellous improbabilities which he readily
accepts for authentic histories, and finally, gambling--these are the
only pleasures of the savage.

The chase is almost his sole means of existence; for he is no shepherd,
and still less is he a tiller of the ground. He contents himself with
gathering those alimentary substances which Nature spontaneously pours
out at his feet; and as, among these, the flesh of animals is that which
he prefers, he exerts all his physical faculties, and all the resources
of his intelligence, to procure it. He fashions for himself arms; he
learns to handle them skilfully, as well as to follow up the scent of
the game, to contend with the wild beast in agility or cunning; and he
displays in this exercise a courage, a patience, and an ardour augmented
by the stimulus of vanity, which prompts every tribe and every
individual to claim the crown of superior bravery and the prize of
surpassing skill.

From emulation to rivalry, from the chase to the campaign, there is but
one step. War, for the savage, is but a more dangerous and a more
glorious chase; a chase more productive and more fertile in pleasures
than the ordinary chase. Therein his self-love, as well as his fierce
sanguinary instincts, can be amply gratified; and he feels a keener
delight than in the pursuit of the lion or the tiger. He also derives
from it far greater advantages, realizes far more considerable profits;
the likeness is moreover all the closer, since he looks upon his
vanquished enemy sometimes as a prey, sometimes as a slave or a thing
for sale or barter. He may either kill him and eat him, or constrain him
to labour for him; or finally sell him for money, or exchange him
against other "goods and chattels." If he does not cut him down on the
battle-field, and it should not suit him to let his captive live, he may
enjoy the pleasure of varying and multiplying his tortures before he
deals the death-blow. Among all savage races no banquet is more eagerly
enjoyed than the torture of their prisoners. It is generally round the
stake to which the shuddering victims are confined, or their throbbing
and bleeding remains, just about to be devoured, that the conquerors
execute fantastic dances, and surrender themselves to noisy
manifestations of joy, making the air re-echo with their discordant
songs and the not less discordant sounds of their rude musical
instruments; then after the hideous banquet--accursed as that which
Pelops offered to the gods--seated around the glowing embers, and in the
midst of the frightful fragments of the feast, they love to recall their
achievements in the battle and the chase, or beguile the time with some
rude game of chance. Gambling, like war and the chase, seems to be an
innate passion with savages; and, sooth to say, it is a vice worthy of
them and of their brutalized nature. Rightly does the poet exclaim,--

                      "What meaner vice
    Crawls there than that which no affections urge,
    And no delights refine; which from the soul
    Steals mounting impulses which might inspire
    Its noblest ventures, for the arid quest
    Of wealth 'mid ruin; changes enterprise
    To squalid greediness, makes heaven-born hope
    A shivering fever, and in vile collapse
    Leaves the exhausted heart, without one fibre
    Impelled by generous passion?"[178]

The "shivering fever" consumes the savage's very life-blood; he gives
himself up to it with unrestrained frenzy, and stakes, upon a throw of
the dice, his weapons, his possessions, his women, and even his liberty.

Scarcely less violent is the passion which plunges him into drunkenness.
With the fermented juices of various plants he is skilful in compounding
intoxicating liquors, though he greatly prefers to these raw
preparations the subtle mixtures introduced by Europeans. There is
nothing which you cannot obtain from him for a few bottles of rum, of
whisky, or brandy. And it is to the shame of our merchants that they do
not scruple to stimulate, for their own sordid benefit, this vile
passion to the utmost, against which the efforts of all our missionaries
have proved almost powerless; so that, in truth, the commerce of the
savage with civilized men, far from contributing to raise the former out
of their abject, slothful, and degraded condition, has, on the contrary,
proved for the majority of them a new source of embrutization and
depravity.

Savages have no other literature than the traditions, myths, and marvels
to which I have already alluded. They have no written language; and here
we are at once provided with a means of distinguishing the wholly savage
from the partly civilized races. The reduction of speech to a definite
system, the acknowledgment of certain laws and principles as affecting
the formation of a language, is the first great step out of barbarism
which a barbarous people accomplishes.

Their science is limited to some acquaintance with the properties of the
plants which they make use of, either as food, medicine, or poison.
Medicine, indeed, as practised by "medicine-men," priests, or
"sorcerers," consists practically of superstitious formulas, whose
object is to expel the "evil spirit" which the savage supposes to be the
cause of all his maladies.

The logical faculties are invariably those which in man are developed
the most slowly and with the greatest difficulty. But they are also
those which constitute the intellectual power of great nations. Without
Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, what had been ancient Hellas? Without
Bacon, Locke, Newton, and Stuart Mill, what were modern England? Or
Italy, without Galileo? And France, without Pascal, Descartes, Diderot,
and Montesquieu? And Germany, without Fichte, Hegel, Kant, and Schlegel?
The savage, however, possesses these faculties in a purely rudimentary
condition. Analysis, synthesis, abstraction, generalization, are mental
achievements which they cannot accomplish. They show themselves
incapable, in fact, of the simplest calculations, of resolving easy
arithmetical problems which are no mystery to the infants in our
European infant-schools. Their numeration never goes beyond the safe and
certain limit of their ten fingers; often they cannot compute above
five, three, and even two. The Guarinis employ the expression "one hand"
and "two hands" to designate _five_ and _ten_; other American tribes say
"two men" instead of _forty_, because each man has twenty toes and
fingers. Among most of the African negroes, numeration is quinary; it is
ternary, or even binary, among the Australian aborigines. The savage
knows nothing of art, nor of that feeling for beauty which is the
essence of art. If he cultivates music, it is of so discordant a
character, and so incongruous a medley of sounds, that no European can
listen to it with patience. The gods which they fashion out of wood or
clay, and to which they frequently offer human sacrifices, are of the
utmost hideousness; and it is with difficulty the spectator can
recognize in their rude outlines any likeness, however imperfect, to the
models in man or beast which the sculptor has pretended to imitate. The
want, or rather the depravation of taste, is shown in the choice of the
ornaments with which they decorate their persons; in the tatooings with
which they bespatter their bodies; in the unbecoming ornaments of every
kind which they suspend to the nose, the lips, the ears, and which
render monstrous the visage already ugly enough by nature.

The savage has no "industries" in the sense which we attach to that
comprehensive word; the terms "trade," "business," "profession," possess
no equivalents in his language. He builds himself a hut, a cabin, or a
wigwam; and he fabricates for his use a few indispensable implements,
weapons, and utensils. The only profession recognized among savage
peoples is that of the priesthood. Priests, indeed, are everywhere found
as the teachers and ministers of a religion--if we are willing to bestow
that sacred word on an incongruous mass of superstitious practices and
beliefs, founded upon some dim idea of the existence of a Supreme Being.
And this idea exists, though very faintly and rudely, and mingled with
many atrocious or absurd aberrations, among most of the red-skins of
North America and the islanders of Polynesia. These races believe in the
power of a superior God, whom the former denominate the "Great Spirit,"
_Kitchi Manitou_, and the latter _Taoroa_ or _Tangara_; as well as in
another life, a coarse and sensual immortality, wherein they hope to
enjoy the full measure of those animal delights which constitute their
ideal of perfect happiness. The conception which the savage forms of his
God is, nevertheless, a very poor and imperfect one. He never connects
him with his thoughts, his emotions, his moral or intellectual nature;
but only with the material world--with the thunder and the lightning,
the sunshine and the cloud. "Who is it," says the Indian, "that causes
the rain to rise in the high mountains, and to empty itself into the
ocean? Who is it that causes to blow the loud winds of winter, and that
calms them again in the summer? Who is it that rears up the shade of
those lofty forests, and blasts them with the quick lightning at his
pleasure?" And so the Polynesian employs his priest to propitiate his
God with sacrifices when the storm rages; and the African, after a
prolonged drought, engages the intercession of his "rain-maker" to
obtain the desired showers. It is not a moral and a spiritual, but a
_material_ God, of whom the savage conceives, and before whose anger he
trembles.

In some regions of South America, and principally in Peru, man worships
the sun as his supreme divinity, and it is easy to understand the awe
and wonder with which the uncultivated mind would necessarily look upon
the orb of day, the master and ruler of the year. With Southey, I find
myself ready to exclaim:--

    "I marvel not, O Sun, that unto thee
     In adoration man should bow the knee,
     And pour the prayer of mingled awe and love;
     For like a god thou art, and on thy way
     Of glory sheddest, with benignant ray,
     Beauty, and life, and joyaunce from above."

We know, too, that sun-worship has prevailed among the most highly
civilized races, and that it was the basis of Greek, Egyptian, Celtic,
and Oriental mythologies. "Our northern natures," says Mr. Helps,[179]
referring to the influence of this religion of the outer world, "can
hardly comprehend how the sun and the moon and the stars were imaged in
the heart of a Peruvian, and dwelt there; how the changes in these
luminaries were combined with all his feelings and his fortunes; how the
dawn was hope to him; how the fierce mid-day brightness was power to
him; how the declining sun was death to him; and how the new morning was
a resurrection to him: nay, more, how the sun and the moon and the stars
were his personal friends, as well as his deities; how he held communion
with them, and thought that they regarded every act and word; how, in
his solitude, he fondly imagined that they sympathized with him; and
how, with outstretched arms, he appealed to them against their own
unkindness, or against the injustice of his fellow-man." But such a
creed as this is indicative of some degree of advancement, of some
modicum of civilization, and may not be compared with the monstrous
fetichism prevailing in Melanesia, Australia, Africa, and the Polar
Deserts. In these regions the savage takes for the objects of his
veneration beasts and inanimate objects; or is without any definite
belief, and shows himself refractory to all religious teaching. Such is
the case, according to Sir John Ross, among the Eskimos; while the
Australians, according to Latham, have not even succeeded in formulating
the rudest elements of a mythology; and the negroes of Equatorial Africa
indulge in horrible superstitions which are a hundredfold worse than the
absence of all belief.

The individuals, therefore, who act as priests among these ignorant and
stupid savages are, in reality, only miserable sorcerers, to whom they
attribute the power of predicting the future, of controlling wind and
rain, the sun and the moon, of curing disease, either by magic potions,
incantations, or amulets; but they fear without respecting them, and
never hesitate to put them to death when the effect of their juggleries
or their prophecies does not respond to the hopes cherished by the
worshippers.

Among these credulous and cruel peoples we find the realization of all
those terrible dreams embodied by the poet in his picture of the
influences and consequences of superstition. For a vivid commentary on
the following lines of Pope, the reader should turn to the pages of
Livingstone, Burton, Speke, Du Chaillu, William Ellis, John Williams, or
Admiral Wilkes. Of superstition, the poet says:[180]--

    "She taught the weak to bend, the proud to pray
     To powers unseen, and mightier far than they:
     She, from the rending earth and bursting skies,
     Saw gods descend, and fiends infernal rise;
     Here fixed the dreadful, there the blessed abodes:
     Fear made her devils, and weak hope her gods:
     Gods partial, changeful, passionate, unjust,
     Whose attributes were rage, revenge, or lust;
     Such as the souls of cowards might conceive,
     And, formed like tyrants, tyrants would believe.
     Zeal, then, not charity, became the guide;
     And hell was built on spite, and heaven on pride.
     Then sacred seemed the ethereal vault no more;
     Altars grew marble then, and reeked with gore;
     Then first the flamen tasted living food;
     Next his grim idol smeared with human blood;
     With heaven's own thunders shook the world below,
     And played the god an engine on his foe."

The savage has only rudimentary notions of the justice, the respect, and
the good-will which man owes to his fellows. Nevertheless, if in some
parts of the world he appears an intractable, cruel, and perfidious
being, in others his manners are gentle, inoffensive, and hospitable.
And nearly everywhere he seems capable of gratitude, devotion, and even
of veritable heroism. But, in general, the law of the strongest is the
only law which he recognizes; the fear of an immediate and corporeal
chastisement is the sole restraint upon his passions; and the material
instincts are the most powerful impulses of his actions. The want or
narrowness of the moral sense induces as its natural consequences among
the unfortunate savages every form of debauchery--the absolute and
brutal tyranny of the chief over his tribe, of man over woman, of the
father over his children, of the conqueror over the conquered; murder on
the slightest occasion, and with incredible refinements of cruelty; and,
finally, anthropophagy--that hideous custom which lowers man below the
most ferocious beasts, and which, nevertheless is not always, as might
be supposed, the sign of the lowest abasement.

Anthropophagy springs from different causes, and clothes itself in
various forms. Sometimes it is but the expression of a sanguinary
instinct, of an atrocious sentiment of vengeance; sometimes it is the
consequence of a state of misery and of famine almost permanent; often,
also, it is closely connected with the usage of human sacrifices, and
those who practise it consider it as a sacred duty, as an act of piety,
agreeable to their divinities or to the _manes_ of the victims whose
very flesh they devour.

Unknown to the stupid Eskimos, and in general to all hyperborean races,
anthropophagy rages with intensity among peoples comparatively
civilized. The Ghonds of Hindostan, peaceful and laborious cultivators,
are not exactly cannibals, but every year they immolate to their
divinities a multitude of children, whom they flay and cut to pieces
while alive, and whose flesh they distribute in fragments over the
fields they are about to sow.

[Illustration: A CANNIBAL FEAST AMONG THE BATTAS OF SUMATRA.]

In Sumatra there exists a tribe, that of the Battas, which has not
only a religion and a worship, but a kind of constitution, a literature,
and a penal code. This code condemns certain classes of criminals to be
_eaten alive_. After the sentence has been pronounced by the competent
tribunal, two or three days are suffered to elapse in order to give the
people time to assemble. On the appointed day the criminal is led to the
place of execution, and bound to a stake. The offended party, or his
nearest relation, if he has been murdered, advances and chooses the
choicest morsel; the others follow in their turn, and with their own
hands cut off such pieces as please their fancy. Finally, the
unfortunate wretch is relieved from his sufferings by the chief, who
strikes off his head. The flesh is eaten on the spot, raw or cooked,
according to each man's taste.

The natives of some of the Polynesian Islands consider that they render
a service to their aged parents by slaying them, and that, by eating
them, they provide the most honourable mode of sepulture. Others believe
that a man, by devouring his enemy, infiltrates into his blood all the
virtues with which the latter was endowed. A similar prejudice exists
among certain tribes on the Amazon.

It is beyond doubt that, in a majority of cases, anthropophagy
originates in scarcity of food, in the lack of cattle and game, while,
in others, many cannibals are attracted by the delicious savour of human
flesh, which they prefer to every other. Among the _Cobens_ of the
Uanpès, says Maury, man is considered as veritable game, and these
savages declare war against the neighbouring tribes only with the object
of procuring a supply of human flesh. When they have more than they
require for present needs, they dry it, smoke it, and store it away as
provision.

In the Viti Islands, whose natives are eulogized by Dumont-d'Urville as
the most intelligent in Melanesia, great festivals are celebrated at
different epochs of the year, which require a certain number of victims.
Prisoners of war are the first to be immolated; then all those
unfortunates who are without an asylum are hunted and collected; and if
this inhuman chase should not be sufficiently productive, the purveyors
eke out the supplies by adding some wretched women, who are eaten by
their own relatives. Dumont-d'Urville speaks of a chief, named Tanoa,
who, for a public banquet, caused thirty women to be slain, and their
kin, far from murmuring or lamenting, took part in the hideous feast.

In Africa, Captain Burton saw, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, a
cannibal people, named the Vouabembés, who feed upon carrion, vermin,
larvæ, and insects, and carry their sluggishness and brutality to such
an extreme as to eat raw and putrid human flesh. Although you may see on
every countenance, says this adventurous traveller,[181] the expression
of chronic hunger, the poor wretches, timid, fuliginous, stunted,
degraded, seem far more dangerous enemies to the dead than to the
living.

Owing to the exertions of our missionaries, this horrible practice,
against which our better nature instinctively rebels, is rapidly dying
out in every region where their beneficial influence extends. In
Polynesia and New Zealand, for instance, cannibalism is almost extinct.
And if we owed no other service to the self-denying exertions of the
soldiers of the Cross, this alone would entitle them to our gratitude,
for the extermination of anthropophagy is the first step towards
teaching man to reverence man.



CHAPTER X.

MAN IN THE SAVANNAHS AND THE FORESTS--THE SAVAGE RACES--THE NEGROES.

    "When wild in woods the untutored savage ran."


Savagery is evidently the primitive condition of man. But while for
certain races it has only been the first period of a more or less rapid
progressive evolution, a movement in advance more or less complete, for
others it seems to be a perpetual infancy, an incurable atrophy of the
noble faculties which are the privilege of our species. It is not the
province of the present writer to determine the causes, undoubtedly very
complex, which have operated in the formation of the various races
composing the human genus, to allot to each the physiological and
psychological characteristics which distinguish them, and to explain
their distribution in the different regions of the globe. These are
problems, indeed, which science has only begun to investigate, and in
whose discussion scientific men exhibit the widest discrepancies of
opinion. While one authority contends for man's unity of origin, another
believes that he has sprung from several independent sources. All at
present is hypothesis and conjecture; nor do there apparently exist any
well-approved facts on which a satisfactory theory can be erected apart
from the brief and succinct details recorded in Holy Writ. Why one race
has emerged from barbarism while another remains sunk in its lowest
depths, we can only explain by admitting the exercise of a superhuman
power. No evidence can be given that any people has achieved
civilization by its own unassisted efforts. But in these pages I am not
called upon to enter into any philosophical speculations. I have only to
deal with facts; and with one incontestable fact, the superiority of
those races which have acquired civilization over those which are
incapable of so grand a work, and which show little, if any, aptitude to
profit by the examples and the lessons brought within their reach.

Whether it is due to wholly external circumstances, such as climate,
geographical situation, geological constitution of the soil, its nature
and that of its productions, that such differences should exist between
different races, that some should reign as sovereigns over the earth,
while others, in their pretended liberty, are given up to all the
horrors of slavery, ignorance, misery, and cannibalism, I am not called
upon to determine. It seems both probable and possible. "To understand
any people thoroughly," says Mr. Helps, "we must know something of the
country in which they live, or at least of that part inhabited by the
dominant race. The insects partake the colour of the trees they dwell
upon, and man is not less affected by the place of his habitation on
the earth." We cannot pretend to undervalue the importance of race. We
cannot deny that one is the ruler, the other the ruled. As Emerson
says,[182] "It is race, is it not? that puts the hundred millions of
India under the dominion of a remote island in the north of Europe. Race
is a controlling influence in the Jew, who, for two millenniums, under
every climate, has preserved the same character and employments." It is
race that has planted the Anglo-Saxon on every shore, and that for ages
has subjected the negro to the yoke of bondage. At all events, it is
certain that, even in the present day, savagery is the exclusive portion
of certain races, perfectly distinct in a physiological point of view
from the white and yellow races (the Caucasian and Mongolian), which,
either in antiquity or the modern age, have arrived at more or less
advanced degrees of civilization.

The savage races may be divided into four great groups:--

The _Negro_, in Africa and North America;

The _Malayo-Polynesian_, in Polynesia and the Indian islands.

The _American_, or Red Indians; and

The _Hyperborean_, chiefly represented by the Eskimos.

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Negro_ or _Black_ races are distributed over the whole of Africa,
from the Cape of Good Hope to the frontiers of the Saharan region. The
name of Negro is also given to the natives of Australia and Papouasia.
But most anthropologists agree in considering the Australian branch
wholly distinct from, and independent of, the African branch; which,
nevertheless, it resembles in several organic peculiarities, and
especially in the deep colour of the skin.

This characteristic, which is the most conspicuous at the first glance,
is, however of secondary importance: it is extremely marked on the east
African coast, among the Nubians and the Abyssinians; on the banks of
the Cuzamance, not far from the Sierra Leone coast, among the Feloupas,
and on the Guinea coast, among the Aminas. All these peoples are black
as ebony; but their oval countenances, their regular features, the
elegance of their forms and the development of their faculties,
evidently connect them, some with the Semites, others with the
Aryan-Hindus.

On the other hand, several varieties of Negroes properly so-called wear
but a fuliginous or reddish-brown tint. It is, therefore, by less
superficial peculiarities that we distinguish the true Negro. His skull
is elongated, and laterally compressed. Sometimes his jaw projects, a
characteristic scientifically designated by the name of prognathism;
sometimes it is more vertically disposed, but then the cheek-bones (or
"zygomathic arches") are extremely prominent. His teeth project; that
is, they are inclined outward, and always long and white. The skeleton,
whiter than our own, is also heavier and more massive. The abdomen is
exceedingly narrow, and with a conical cavity; the legs are bowed. Short
the neck, broad the thorax, and convex, and generally well made. The
muscles, but slightly developed in proportion to the dimensions of the
osseous framework, have not the vivid red colour which distinguishes the
flesh of the European; the blood is black, thick, and circulates slowly.
The body is always deprived of hair; there is little or no beard; the
hair of the head is black, woolly, and frizzled. The eyes are of the
deepest black, but inexpressive. The forehead is low, the chin short,
the mouth large, the lips are long and thick. Finally, and this is the
most remarkable sign of the Negro's inferiority, the type of the face,
in the same race, is so uniform that it is difficult to distinguish one
individual from another. To this physical uniformity corresponds a moral
and intellectual uniformity, which effaces, so to speak, all
individuality. In Africa we meet with numerous tribes more or less
intelligent and capable of being educated, many sanguinary and fierce,
others benevolent and inoffensive; but the character and dispositions of
a tribe are reproduced among all the individuals who compose it with
scarcely perceptible differences.

The Negroes of Africa may be divided into three principal varieties: the
pure Negroes, the Kaffirs, and the Hottentots. The former comprehends
all the populations of the east, centre, and west of Africa. Its
primitive stock is supposed to be the people called Mandinké or Malinké
(Mandingue), formerly established at Mendé, in the delta of the Nile,
but who emigrated towards the western coast, and now inhabit the
mountainous countries bordering on the Upper Senegal. Between this river
and the Niger are grouped some tribes in whom the Berber or Semitic
blood appears mingled with the Negro blood; such are the Yolofs, the
Foulahs, and the Peulas, or Fellatahs. The latter are of a sooty black,
with a well-shaped head, a square frontal development, thick and woolly
hair. They have founded powerful states, and are considered as the true
civilizers of the Soudan, where they have introduced Islamism.

Further south, at the Gaboon, we meet with the wholly savage nations of
the Mpongwes, the Shekianis, and the Fans. The Mpongwes inhabit the
right bank of the Gaboon, spreading over an extent of seventy to eighty
miles. They are of a medium height, and comparatively agreeable
physiognomy. The men are clothed in a calico shirt, and wrap themselves
in an ample piece of stuff as a mantle. Their head-dress is a simple
straw-hat; but the king, as a sign of his dignity, wears a hat of silk.
The women have no other garment than close-fitting drawers descending to
the knee; but they decorate their arms and legs with copper rings. Great
amateurs are both sexes of tinsel and perfumery, and they besprinkle
themselves with all kinds of essences. According to Du Chaillu, their
characteristic trait is their passionate ardour for trade. Their
principal wares are ivory, precious woods, and slaves. They display in
their commercial manoeuvres great ability jointed to the most signal
bad faith.

The Shekianis occupy, between the banks of the Muni and La Mondah, and
those of the Ogobay, a territory which stretches to within some two
hundred miles of the sea. Their appearance is less prepossessing than
that of the Mpongwes. Perfidious warriors, artful traders, bold and
astute hunters; such are the salient traits of their character. As for
the Fans, they are cannibals of the worst species, whose appetite for
human flesh leads them even to eat individuals who have died of disease,
and to disinter the dead in order to roast or smoke them. When human
flesh fails amongst them, they buy or steal it from their neighbours.
They are, however, according to M. Du Chaillu, the handsomest and most
gallant-looking negroes of the interior, and their horrible diet seems
to fatten and strengthen them. Living in the mountains, they have that
bold free air which distinguishes all mountaineers.

[Illustration: NEGROES--NATIVES OF KIDI, AFRICA]

The Negro type is seen in all its purity among the populations of Congo,
Nigritia, the Soudan, Dahomey, and Timbuctu, as well as among those of
the eastern coast, below the tenth parallel of north latitude. In the
region of the great lakes, between the coast of Zanguebar and the Lakes
Victoria-Nyanza and Tanganyika, lie the kingdoms of Ugogo, Unyamezi,
Unyoro, Kidi, and others, visited by Grant and Speke in their
celebrated journey to the sources of the Nile. The inhabitants of these
countries are "darkly, deeply, beautifully" black, with prominent jaws,
thick lips, and oblique eyes. Some of them, as, for instance, those of
Unyoro, show a certain amount of taste in their accoutrements, and drape
themselves in the Romanesque manner with folds of cotton or calico.
Those of Kidi wear no other clothing than an apron round the loins; they
carry large rings on the arms, legs, and neck; and arrange their hair in
sufficiently complicated tresses.

[Illustration: KAFFIR WARRIORS.]

The Kaffir and Hottentot races are spread over all Southern Africa,
below the fourteenth degree of south latitude; the former on the east,
the latter on the west coast.

In the hierarchy of races, the Kaffirs occupy a rank superior to that
of the Negroes of Equatorial Africa. They have neither the pronounced
tint nor the broad flat nose of the blacks of Guinea and the Soudan.
They form great nations, build towns, cultivate the land, and work in
metals. Their stock throws off four branches: the handsomest and most
cultured is that of the Zulus, whose hue is not darker than that of the
Arabs, and of whom the Wanikas offer the most conspicuous type. Then
follow the south Kaffir branch, including the Amacondas and the
Ama-Hupubas; the Sofaloa branch, whose type most nearly approaches the
pure Negro race; finally, the Kaffir-Hottentot branch, which comprehends
the Makololos, the Bakonis, the Basoutos, the Batouas, the Damaras,
people of a clear brown hue, who have migrated from the north to the
south, driving before them or subjugating the Hottentots, with whom they
have intermixed.

[Illustration: HOTTENTOTS--A MAN AND WOMAN.]

The Hottentot race, or Quaiqua, is characteristic of Southern Africa.
Its origin appears of remote antiquity; but it formerly dwelt further to
the north, and has been driven back towards the south by the progress of
the more warlike Kaffirs. The Hottentots are of low stature; their skin
is a yellowish-brown. Their head is long, with projecting forehead and
cheek-bones; flat nose, thick lips. Their women are hideous in face and
deformed in body; as they grow old they grow stout, and a truly
monstrous _embonpoint_ invades the posterior part of their person.
Morally, they are in an abject condition, which must be attributed
rather to their sloth and wretchedness than to any lack of intelligence.
Their sole garment is the _carross_, a kind of sheepskin mantle. They
live in such low huts that they can only enter them by crawling. Some
Hottentot tribes cultivate the soil, or depasture herds of cattle; such
are the Bayéyés, established on the banks of Lake Ngami; the Namaquas,
who are distinguished into "the great" and "the little;" and the
Koranas, who roam along the Orange River. The most miserable members of
this family are the _Bosjesmans_, or _Bushmen_, who inhabit the Kalahari
Deserts, between the Cape Colony and Kaffraria. The total number of the
Hottentot race probably does not exceed 150,000.

I have said that the Negroes of Australia and Papouasia were wholly
distinct from those of Africa. And, in fact, I can hardly admit that it
could ever have been possible for the latter to colonize the Australian
continent and the adjacent islands. What, then, is the origin of the
Australians and the Papuans? According to some anthropologists, they are
descended from that strange race of savages which still exists in
Hindostan, in the Nielgherries, and the Téraï, between Palmoco,
Sumbhulpoor, and the sources of the Nerbudda. But whence came the
latter? On this subject all historical tradition is dumb, and science
knows not what to think of those black-skinned savages, with the face of
an ape, a body covered with red hair, disproportionably long arms, a
protuberant belly, and who live in the trees like the orangs and the
gibbons.

[Illustration: AUSTRALIANS.]

Whatever may be its origin, the Pelagian Negro race now-a-days occupies
New Holland, Tasmania, New Caledonia, New Britain, New Guinea, the Fiji
Islands, and the Andaman. It comprehends the Australians, the Papuans,
the Andamanese, the Alfourous, and some other secondary branches. We
often, but erroneously, confound the Australians and Papuans. While both
are black, they differ markedly from one another, and the latter are
superior to the former. The Australians are puny and wretched in
appearance. They have a protuberant belly, feeble limbs, a long but not
projecting face, a depressed skull, long black frizzled hair. Their
attire is remarkable for its simplicity: a kangaroo skin flung over the
right shoulder! The custom of painting and tatooing the body is
generally adopted among them, as well as among all savages, to whatever
race they belong, and whatever part of the world they inhabit. The
tribes are distinguished by the colours they make use of, and by the
number and arrangement of the incisions which the warriors make on their
limbs, their chest, and their shoulders. Their arms are spears pointed
with heads of jagged flint, and hatchets of the same material. The
indigenous population of Australia is rapidly decreasing; it does not
exceed a total of 3000 souls. In Tasmania the aborigines are reduced to
four, three aged women, and a young man, who has recently visited
England.[183]

[Illustration: PAPUANS.]

The Papuans have not woolly hair, like the Australians. Their hair grows
in separate plaits, which twine one in another, and form, when of some
length, a voluminous and characteristic _coiffure_. The Papuans of New
Guinea, according to Dumont d'Urville, are men of medium stature, with
elegant forms, oval countenance, and tolerably regular features. Their
skin is of a dark brown colour. They appear to be of a timid and
unenterprising character. Their residence they have planted on the
shores of the sea, where they dwell in long wooden huts, raised upon
piles which are plunged deep in the very waters of ocean. It does not
seem that they acknowledge the authority of any chiefs. They know only a
few words of the Malayan language, and speak the _papoua_, which differs
from it essentially.

The Andamanese, or Andamans, are of a jet-black colour. Their stature
rarely exceeds four and a half to five feet. Their head is large, and
sunken between the shoulders; their hair woolly; most of them are
disfigured by protuberant stomach and meagre lower limbs. They go about
in an absolute nudeness, for we cannot regard as any species of clothing
the coat of clay or yellow ochre which they plaster over their bodies to
protect them against the stings of insects; the red ochre which the
earth supplies them they make use of to powder their hair and paint
their face. According to the latest estimates, the total population of
the Andaman Islands does not exceed 2000 individuals.

The Alfourous, or Harfourous, inhabit Borneo, the Celebes, the Moluccas,
Mindanao, and some other isles. Their type has no very definite
peculiarity, and ethnologists seem agreed to consider them a mixed race,
resulting from a cross between the Papuans and the Malays, and forming
the transition between the two races.



CHAPTER XI.

MAN IN THE SAVANNAHS AND THE FORESTS:--THE MALAYO-POLYNESIANS--THE NORTH
AMERICAN INDIANS.


The Malayo-Polynesian race has also been designated, and much more
felicitously, the Neptunian or Pelagian, because it peoples exclusively
the peninsulas and islands of the great Southern Ocean. It is, to speak
the truth, an ill-defined, heterogeneous, and composite race, presenting
very diverse types. Ethnologists, however, divide it into two original
branches--the Malayan and the Polynesian.

The Malays have the skull flattened in the inferior portion, the malar
bones very wide apart, a flat nose, an exceedingly wide mouth, thick
lips, and eyes raised in the direction of the temples; their yellow skin
embrowns by exposure to the sun, but if sheltered from its rays, grows
almost white, especially with the females. Generally speaking, they are
corrupt, sanguinary, and perfidious, as our seamen wrecked upon their
shores have too frequently experienced; but they are intelligent, and
capable of a certain degree of civilization. The best marked types of
this race are found in Sumatra, among the anthropophagous Battas already
spoken of, the Orang-Lobous, and the Pagais. The latter tatoo the body,
says Maury,[184] and like the Nagas of Assam, make new marks every time
they have killed a foe; thus bearing about on their own persons the
evidences and glorification of their prowess. Like the Michmis of Assam,
they expose their dead on rudely-constructed scaffolds or platforms,
where they leave them to decay; a custom which prevails amongst nearly
all the Polynesian populations, as well as among the Redskins of North
America. We must therefore conclude that the Malayan race was, at the
outset, extremely barbarous. It owes its civilization to the influence
of the Hindus, and especially to that of the inhabitants of the Malabar
coast.

This civilization, in all its conditions, the Malays appear to have
transported to Madagascar, where they have formed, by intermixture with
the Negroes of Africa, two new races--the Hovas, who still preserve
distinctly visible affinities with the Negroes properly so called, and
the Sakalaves, who approximate towards the Kaffirs.

[Illustration: MALAYS--MALE AND TWO FEMALES.]

These two mixed races comprise in themselves several varieties, but all
bear the common denomination of Malagasy or Madecassy.[185]

[Illustration: HOVAS OF MADAGASCAR--MEN, WOMAN, AND CHILD.]

According to M. Maury, the populations of Polynesia depart the more
completely from the Malayan type as we advance in an eastward
direction; so that, from the Caroline Islands to the Marquesas, and from
the Sandwich Islands to New Zealand, they constitute a sufficiently
homogeneous race, the Polynesians or _Kanaks_.[186] This race is
represented in the Sandwich Islands by an almost white variety, whose
type very closely approaches the Caucasian race; in New Zealand, on the
other hand, by tribes of a dark brown. In the island of Ombaï, situated
at the extremity of that vast archipelago which seems in some remote age
to have formed an isthmus connecting the Australian with the Asiatic
continent, the natives are of a more or less decided olive-brown. Their
eyes are deep-set and brilliant, their lips thick, the mouth is large,
and the nose generally flat, yet sometimes tolerably well made. They are
of medium height, robust, and good figures. They wear a scanty beard, if
any; but their hair is long and thick; sometimes they suffer it to flow
freely about their shoulders, sometimes they gather it on the top of the
head with pieces of vari-coloured stuffs. These savages have a fierce
and martial air, are abrupt in their manners, and rapid in their
movements. They display extraordinary skill in the management of the
bow, and also make use of the Malayan _kris_ or crease, which they carry
in their girdle. In battle they protect their persons with a
breast-plate and a buckler of buffalo hide; these two pieces of armour
are ornamented with shells in regular and pleasing designs. The people
of Ombaï are anthropophagic.

[Illustration: WARRIORS OF THE ISLAND OF OMBAI.]

If now we transport ourselves to the eastern extremity of Polynesia, the
Marquesas Islands, occupied by France in 1842, we shall find there the
Pelagian race under one of its handsomest and most amiable types. The
Kanaks of this group are not exempt from cannibalism. Nevertheless,
before the commerce, civilization, and vices of Europe intruded upon
their savage Eden, they lived in a condition of comparative innocence;
and the corruption which has since invaded them preserves that open and
simple character proper to people in whom the capacity of discerning
good from evil is but imperfectly developed.

A traveller, who possesses the threefold merit of being an elegant
writer, a judicious observer, and an accurate narrator, M. Max Radiguet,
has embodied in an agreeable volume, entitled "The Last Savages," some
lively impressions of a sojourn of several years in the Marquesas, and
principally at Noukahiva. It is from his pages that I borrow the
following sketch of the islanders of this group.

       *       *       *       *       *

"If you would wish," he says, "to see the Noukahivian in all his purity,
in all his native elegance, it is not among the Teës, it is among the
Taïpis, and in the other less frequented islands of the group, that you
must seek him.

"Of lofty stature, well-spread shoulders, swelling chest, a shapely
figure, the body lightly set upon the haunches, the Noukahivian advances
with proud and sometimes arrogant bearing, but always with a confident
mien, a free and hardy manner. He seems fitted for the race and the
escalade rather than for the struggle. He has more the character of the
gymnast than of the athlete. His features are regular and handsome, his
nose straight or aquiline, sometimes short or slightly flattened, never
ill-sloped. The mouth is neither large nor thick-lipped; the forehead,
rather low and somewhat receding, is shaved on the upper portion, whence
arises the common saying that the Kanaks have a high forehead.

"We may easily portray the physical form of an inhabitant of the
Marquesas; but it is more difficult to define the eccentricities of his
fantastic nature. There is much of the child in his disposition; he is
as insensible, or nearly so, to the emotions of gratitude, and has the
same irascible caprice. He is nervous, restless, impatient. Superstition
is one of his prominent failings. He is hospitable; his first advances
are warm, earnest, playful; then, at the least chill, and from motives
which a stranger cannot always appreciate, an abrupt revolution takes
place, and he becomes wayward and moody.

[Illustration: ISLANDERS OF NOUKAHIVA.]

"The women are of medium stature, their contours frequently modelled
with a purity which the sculptor has revealed to us almost alone in
France.... Few women of fashion are more graceful, if not in their
movements, at least in their attitudes; and the women of the
neighbouring archipelagoes, the so much eulogized Tahitians,[187]
appear awkward, unwieldy, and sunburnt peasants compared with the
exquisitely elegant daughters of Noukahiva.

"The Kanaks talk but little. Frequently they convey their thoughts to
one another by a play of the physiognomy which Europeans find it
difficult to seize. Seated face to face, the back supported against a
stone, the arms crossed beneath the head, they regard each other for
whole hours without exchanging a single word. In direct contrast to the
negro, they are very sparing both in words and gestures, when even their
dearest interests are involved. Slow, indolent, averse to labour, not
knowing how to submit themselves to any regular work, they pass the
greatest part of their time stretched in the shadow of the trees on
their mats, sleeping, singing, or weaving garlands. And yet, though they
are sensual, gluttonous, and careless of the morrow, they are gifted
with a quick wit, a sound judgment, and a very accurate conception of
right and justice."

       *       *       *       *       *

We do not remark among the numerous tribes scattered over the immense
territory of the two American continents, and vaguely comprehended under
the denomination of the Red or American race, differences less profound
or characteristic than among the different fractions of the Negro or
Malayo-Polynesian race. Just as, in speaking of the New World, we
formerly made use of the expression "the West Indies," or the "Great
Indies," we also call by the term "Indians" all the aboriginal peoples
of this portion of the globe, and the use of this term, incorrect as it
is, writers as well as readers seem indisposed to surrender. In fact, it
possesses the twofold advantage of being short, and of not attributing
to the peoples which it designates an unity of origin which is doubtful,
or a similitude of colour which does not exist.

[Illustration: INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA--THE RED SKINS.]

"From the North Pole even to Tierra del Fuego," says Maury, "there is
scarcely a shade of human colouring which is not manifested, from the
black to the yellow. The aborigines, according to their nation, are of a
brown-olive, a dark brown, bronze, pale yellow, copper yellow, red,
white, brown, &c. Their stature does not vary less. Between the
stature, not gigantic but very tall, of the Patagonians and the
dwarf-like proportions of the Changos, we meet with a host of
intermediary 'sizes.' The proportions of the body present the same
diversity; some peoples have the bust very long, like the tribes of the
Pampas; others, short and broad, like the inhabitants of the Peruvian
Andes; the same is the case with the shape and size of the head. Yet we
recognize between the various American populations an air of kinship,
certain general features which distinguish them from the races of
the Old World. Among these features must be placed, in the front
rank, the pyramidal form of the head and the narrowness of the
forehead--characteristics of great antiquity among the American
populations, since they belong to skulls discovered by Mr. Lund in the
caves of Brazil associated with the bones of extinct animals."

Spite of this diversity of type, we may divide the Indians of America
into two races, of which one at least, the Red Skins, is remarkable for
its complete homogeneity. The Red Skins were formerly distributed over
all the upper portion of the American continent--that is, over the
territory of Canada and the United States, and the northern districts of
Mexico. In the sixteenth century they numbered a million and a half of
souls. They are now reduced to a few thousand families. A few years
more, and American rifles, brandy, and poverty, will have completed the
extermination of this indomitable race, which has deserved at least the
respect and the recognition due to honourable courage of those who have
dispossessed them from the immense territories they formerly enjoyed. It
is true, however, that we must not take our estimate of the Red Skins
from the romantic pages of Chateaubriand or Fenimore Cooper. We must not
delude ourselves into a belief that the North American tribes are or
were composed of Deerskins, Hawkeyes, and Leatherstockings. Yet we
cannot refuse to them a character of real grandeur and true nobility.
Their contempt of death and suffering, their stoical composure under the
severest tortures, their disdain of civilization, their horror of
foreign supremacy, their haughtiness, and even their cold and reflective
ferocity, are so many traits which place them, in a moral sense, far
above the majority of the other savage races. A hundred times in
romance, song, and drama have been described the manners of the Red
Skins, their stratagems in war and the chase, the perseverance with
which they hunt down their enemy or their prey, their cunning, their
impassiveness, their vengeance. Who among us has not eagerly followed
them in their long journeys across the rolling savannahs and through the
primeval forests? Who has not listened eagerly, when, seated round the
watch-fire, with the calumet to their lips, they have deliberated
gravely on peace and war? Who has not seen them with alarm dashing to
the combat on their nimble chargers, brandishing the tomahawk and
scalping their conquered victims, whose scalps they hung up in their
wigwams as trophies to their prowess? Who has not followed them
breathlessly when on the trail of a flying foe, or winding serpent-like
through the thick brush-wood in escape from some persistent pursuer?
Assuredly these men were well worthy of study; and it is impossible to
peruse their history or the narrative of their adventures without a
breathless interest. There was poetry in their faith, in their customs,
in their language at once laconic and picturesque, and even in the names
which they bestowed on each tribe, each chief, each warrior. One can
hardly suppress a feeling of regret that so much wild romance should
have been swept from the face of the earth, unless we call to mind the
shadows of the picture--the Indian's cruelty, perfidiousness, and savage
lust. Even then our humanity revolts from the treatment to which he has
been subjected by the "white man." Tracked and hunted like wild beasts,
driven back from one hunting-ground to another, embruted by misery or
drunkenness, incapable of labour, the poor Indians have vainly struggled
against the all-devouring influence of a civilization without bowels,
ill adapted to attract and persuade them, and far less solicitous to
assimilate than to destroy them. The great nations which were formerly
the valued allies or dreaded enemies of the European settlers, the
Hurons, Algonquins, the Iroquois, the Natchez, the Leni-Lenapes, have
entirely disappeared. The wrecks of other but less important nations
still exist on the shores of the great northern lakes, in the Far West,
at the base of the Rocky Mountains, in California, in Texas, in
Arkansas, and in the northern provinces and deserts of Mexico. Such are
the Sioux, the Dacotahs, the Flatheads, the Big-Bellies, the Blackfoot,
the Apaches, the Comanches. The two latter people have, above all,
preserved a certain vitality. Their characteristics, it is said, are
very diverse. The Comanches are of a mild, gentle nature, and eager to
live on peaceable terms with the Whites. The Apaches, on the contrary,
have vowed a relentless hatred against the Pale Faces; they are the
terror of the _hacienderos_[188] and gold-seekers of Upper Mexico, and
the American journals frequently contain accounts of their incursions,
their acts of brigandage, and cruelty.

[Illustration: INDIAN WOMEN OF NORTH AMERICA.]

The most characteristic features of the Red Skin type are, in addition
to the colour of the skin and the pyramidal form of the head, the
prominency and arched outline of the nose, the greatness of the nasal
openings, corresponding to a singular development of the olfactory
nerve, and the absence of beard. Several tribes subject the head of the
new-born to a systematic mis-shapement by compressing it. Hence has
arisen the nickname of Flat-heads, popularly bestowed on the Choctaws.
The same custom existed among the Atacapas, the Creeks, the Muskogis,
and the Catawhas, and is found among most tribes of the Californian
stock.

[Illustration: THE APACHES ATTACKING AN EMIGRANT TRAIN.]

The peoples who have alternately dominated in Mexico and Central
America, and who are now in great part destroyed--the Chichinequas, the
Toltequas, and the Aztecs--are allied to the Red Man by their physical
peculiarities as well as by their moral characteristics. The
comparatively advanced civilization which the Spanish conquerors found
established in Mexico had not effaced among the Indians the sanguinary
instincts and vindictive propensities of their savage ancestors.

The race, or rather races which people South America are very far from
offering the same homogeneity as the populations of North America. These
races are four in number, each of which may be subdivided into several
distinct branches.

The Guarani, or Carib race, formerly occupied the Antilles, and on the
mainland extended as far as Paraguay. It is principally distinguished by
the yellow colour of its skin, by the rounded contour of its visage, by
the flatness of the nose, and the oblique disposition of the eyes. It
comprises three branches: that of the Caribs properly so called, that of
the Guaranis, and that of the Botocoudos.

[Illustration: GUARANI INDIANS (SOUTH AMERICA).]

The Caribs, whose name has become in our common parlance a synonyme with
cannibal, formed at the epoch of the discovery of the New World the
anthropophagic population of the islands of the Mexican Gulf. To-day,
however, it is completely annihilated; but a few scattered offshoots of
the same race inhabit the banks of the Orinoco. The Caribs are tall and
robust, and are included among the most ferocious tribes of South
America.

The Guaranis, in their physiognomy, the colour of their skin, and their
manners, approximate closely to the Red Skins. They show the same love
of independence and the same antipathy to the trammels of civilization.
They are dispersed in the Brazilian forests, and principally in the
province of Maranhao or Maragnan.

[Illustration: PATAGONIANS.]

The Botocoudos are the least intelligent scions of the Brazilo-Guarani
branch. So great is the resemblance between their features and those of
the Chinese, that Auguste St. Hilaire relates that the Botocoudos,
having encountered some natives of "the Celestial Empire" in a part of
Brazil, joyously saluted them with all kinds of amicable demonstrations,
and christened them "their _uncles_."

The Pampas Indians form a mass of tribes dwelling east of the great
Cordillera range, from the river Paraguay to the extreme south of the
continent. Most of these tribes are nomades; but, thanks to the
persevering efforts of the Roman Catholic missionaries, they have
attained a certain degree of civilization. Their type varies according
to the climate of the country which they inhabit, and according to their
mode of life. In general they have a large head, flat on the top, with
small eyes, a big nose, large mouth, and thick lips. They are tall in
stature, and robust-limbed. To this group belong the Patagonians, who
wander, almost constantly on horseback, over the grassy Pampas of the
southern extremity of the continent, where they depasture immense herds
of cattle. Former travellers represented the Patagonians as giants
upwards of six and seven feet high, and wonderful accounts of them
figure in the pages of Drake, Cavendish, and the early navigators. But
these are violent exaggerations. The Patagonians are certainly tall and
athletic, but their stature does not exceed that of most Europeans, and
assuredly not that of the _corps d'élite_ of the armies of England,
France, Prussia, and Austria. Their arms and legs are very long. Their
forehead is exceedingly low; the eyes are sunken; the nose, very thin at
the root, widens greatly at the base; the lips are very thick; the
complexion is of a reddish-brown tint. They suffer their long black
rough hair to grow unchecked, and to fall over the face in "admired
disorder." Their manners are fierce, brutal, and intractable. The
Chiquitos, who inhabit a wooded and well-watered country, lead a more
sedentary and social life; they have embraced Christianity, and dwell on
friendly terms with the Whites. The Tohas, nomades like the Patagonians,
form a still numerous nation. Their skin is copper-hued, but they have
straight eyes, an aquiline nose, a free and haughty physiognomy.

The Ando-Peruvian race inhabits the forests which clothe the plateau on
the eastern slope of the Andes. It is characterized by an olive tint, a
medium height, a receding forehead, and horizontal eyes. The Aymaras and
the Quichuas are its principal representatives. The latter, according to
Orbigny, do not the least resemble the Caribs or the Pampas Indians, and
approximate much nearer to the Mexicans. Their head is large, oblong
from front to back; the forehead low and receding, the face broad, the
nose prominent and aquiline, the mouth large, the chin small, but not
retreating. They had attained, at the time of the Spanish invasion, an
elevated degree of civilization. They support with difficulty the yoke
of the stranger, and the melancholy with which the remembrance of their
past greatness inspires them--the recollection of their vanished
independence--is reflected in their grave physiognomy and the sombre and
mistrustful expression of their gaze.

       *       *       *       *       *

The fourth South American race may be considered as a more southernly
expansion of the preceding. Ethnologists designate it the Araucanian.
The region which it occupies stretches from the 30th parallel of south
latitude to the vicinity of Tierra del Fuego. The Araucanians properly
so called form three tribes--that of the Ranquels, the Huilliches, and
the Aucas. They are warriors and nomades. It was in Araucania that a
French adventurer, some few years ago, was declared king under the title
of Orélie Antoine I. Overthrown and captured by the Chilian Government,
with whom he had embroiled himself in hostilities, he succeeded in
effecting his escape and returning to Europe, where his adventures
became a "nine days' wonder."

To the Araucanian branch belong the Pécherais, an ichthyophagous tribe
of Tierra del Fuego.

The natives of these islands, says Admiral Wilkes,[189] are not more
than five feet high, of a light copper colour, which is much concealed
by smut and dirt, particularly on their faces, which they mark
vertically with charcoal. They have short faces, narrow foreheads, and
high cheek-bones. Their eyes are small and usually black, the upper lids
in the inner corner overlapping the under one, and bear a strong
resemblance to those of the Chinese. The nose is broad and flat, with
wide-spread nostrils, mouth large, teeth white, large, and regular. The
hair is long, lank, and black, hanging over the face, and is covered
with white ashes, which give them a hideous appearance. The whole face
is compressed. Their bodies are remarkable from the great development
of the chest, shoulders, and vertebral column; their arms are long, and
out of proportion; their legs small, and ill-made. There is, in fact,
little difference between the size of the ankle and the leg; and, when
standing, the skin at the knee hangs in a large loose fold. In some
individuals the muscles of the leg appear almost wanting, and possess
very little strength. This want of muscular development is owing to
their constant sitting posture, both in their huts and canoes. Their
skin is sensibly colder than ours. It is impossible to fancy anything in
human nature more filthy. They are an ill-shapen and ugly race.

The Pecherais build their huts on the shore of boughs or small trees
planted in the earth, their tops woven together, and roofed with grass
or bark. Circular in form, they have generally a diameter of seven to
eight feet, and measure four or five feet in height, with an oval
aperture to serve for an entrance. The fire is built up in a central
excavation in the clay floor. The sole, or at all events the principal,
food of this people is shell-fish. They strike the fish, or defend
themselves, with rudely-fashioned spears and slings. The women generally
paddle the canoes.

We also encounter, in the southern provinces of America, in the midst of
the copper-coloured races of whom I have already spoken, a group of
Indians, almost black, whom Prichard, the illustrious ethnologist, has
designated the _Mediterranean_, and whose features recall in a striking
manner those of some of the Californian tribes. Is this resemblance a
sign of the close relationship existing between two peoples placed, as
it were, at the two extremities of the world? We can hardly admit the
supposition. It seems more probable that it results from the analogy of
the climates, and perhaps still more surely from that of the soils,
which appear to exercise a mysterious but a powerful influence upon the
modification of species and races.

[Illustration]



BOOK V.

_THE POLAR DESERTS--THE MOUNTAINS._



CHAPTER I.

THE POLAR DESERTS.


In countries which enjoy an always elevated temperature, the excess of
their fertility is not much more favourable than extreme dryness to the
material and moral development of man. There can be no doubt that the
exuberant vegetation is a potent cause of the insalubrity of the
atmosphere. And thus it comes that civilization, commerce, industry,
labour, have only been able to establish themselves and to make any
considerable progress in temperate or even cold countries, where man has
found a climate more healthy, but at the same time sufficiently unequal,
and often sufficiently inclement, to compel him to defend himself by
various means against the rigour of the atmosphere, and a soil capable
of furnishing him abundantly with the products necessary for his wants,
but on the condition that he gains them by intelligent and persistent
toil--by the "sweat of his brow."

When we arrive under a latitude or a thermometrical mean which exceeds
by some degrees that of England or France, we find the inhabitants
giving way to sloth and indolence; their manners are at once softer and
yet fiercer, their passions more violent and their tastes more fertile;
arts and poesy occupy them to the neglect of the exact sciences;
industry and commerce languish, agriculture is despised. But if, on the
contrary, we proceed towards the north, we discover a greater degree of
civilization, a warmer devotion to labour. The most industrious peoples
of the world, the English and the Dutch, inherit a cold, humid, and even
foggy atmosphere. In Canada and the northernmost States of the American
Union, the Anglo-Saxon race has lost nothing of its laborious habits and
its enterprising audacity. In Sweden and in Norway, in Russia, even in
Siberia, the traveller meets with towns and villages in a flourishing
condition up to the 60th parallel of north latitude and beyond, under a
climate whose mean _annual_ temperature is inferior to the mean _winter_
temperature of France, and where the thermometer frequently descends in
winter below--40° R. Thus, then, we see that the warm bland tropical air
enervates the mind as well as the body, while the cold of the north
seems to increase their energy. It is also true that cold climates, all
things considered, are healthier than hot countries, where disease is
more rapid and fatal in its inroads; and that, finally, civilization
furnishes man with the means of protecting himself against the injurious
effects of a very low temperature, while it leaves him without defence
against those of excessive heat. We shall see hereafter that the human
organism modifies itself, in the Polar regions, in such a manner as to
support, without too great suffering, a degree of cold which at the
outset it appears to us must be absolutely intolerable.

We may place between the isothermal lines of +5° and of 0° the limit
where commences the territory which, in the northern hemisphere, merits
the name of the Region of the Polar Deserts. Already, in effect, under
this glacial latitude, the landscape assumes a sombre and desolate
aspect, which seems to indicate the propinquity of the "funereal
glaciers" of the Pole. The daring traveller who beards the Winter-king
in his own realms meets no more with massive and lofty mountain-crests;
a few only of the great chains of Europe and Asia--here the Scandinavian
Alps, there the Oural Mountains; still further, at the easternmost
extremity of Asia, some scattered summits, which we may consider as
belonging to the elevation of the Altai, prolong even to the Arctic
shores their cantled and snow-shrouded peaks. Everywhere, also, immense
steppes, intersected by swamps and relieved with woods of fir and birch,
spread for leagues upon leagues in the dull light of a wintry sky, until
they merge into those rent and rocky plains, bare of all vegetation
except a few lichens and mosses, which are almost always encrusted in
glittering snow and ice, and mingle in the distance with the frost-bound
waters of the Arctic Sea.

It is in America that these icy deserts are most extensive; not only
because that continent stretches much nearer the Pole than does the Old
World, but because, owing to its geographical disposition and geological
structure, it is much more exposed, even towards the south, to that
combined action of the atmosphere, land, and water, whose effects
constitute the Arctic climate.[190]

This climate, then, prevails over nearly the whole of Danish America,
the recently-acquired possessions of the United States, the Hudson's Bay
Territory, and Labrador, down to that inconsiderable watershed which
separates from the tributaries of Hudson's Bay, the three basins of the
St. Lawrence, the five great lakes, and the Mississippi. This line of
watershed undulates between the 52nd and 49th parallel of latitude, from
Belle-Isle Strait to the sources of the Saskatchewan, in the Rocky
Mountains, where it inflects towards the Pacific Ocean, skirting on the
north the basin of the Columbia.

"Thus circumscribed on the side of the south," say Messieurs Hervé and
F. de Lanoye,[191] "the Arctic lands of America, including the
archipelagoes of the north and north-east, cannot measure less than
560,000 square leagues. They therefore greatly exceed in superficies the
mass of the European lands, estimated at about 490,000 square leagues."

The same authors divide the Arctic lands into three regions, of which
one--they name it "the Province of the North-West"--belongs rather to
those undulating Prairies described in Book III. than to the Polar
Deserts. The two others are the "Middle or Wooded Region," and the
"Barren Landes." The Wooded Region comprehends the basins of the Upper
Mackenzie, the Churchill, the Nelson, and the Severn. Hudson's Bay cuts
into it on the east with its deep anfractuosities. The navigation of
this Mediterranean of the North, open to the currents and to the drift
of the Polar ices, begins only in the month of June, to close in that of
September; yet in this interval the obstruction of the ices is so great
that it occupies a stout vessel two months to traverse the diameter of
the bay. Along the littoral of this sea the soil never thaws below the
surface, and it often freezes on the very surface in the middle of
summer.

Like a fierce and despotic tyrant does Winter reign on these shores for
from eight to nine months. From the end of September the earth, the
rivers which flow into the bay, their affluents, and the chaplet of
lakes which connect them with one another, all disappear under a layer
of hoar-frost. "The provinces of New Wales and of Maine do not enjoy for
a longer period than three months the temperature of +11° (centigrades),
necessary for the development of vegetation. The southern shores of the
Great Bear and Slave Lakes possess that temperature for only two months
at the most." It is not until the month of May that the thermometer
rises ever so little above zero in the Wooded Region, and that a breath
of life passes into the plants. Then only the reddish shoots of the
willows, the poplar trees, and the birches attire themselves in their
long cottony pods; the thickets grow green; the dandelion, the burdock,
and the saxifrages flourish at the foot of the rocks; then the
sweet-brier, the gooseberry, and the strawberry put forth their fruity
burden; and above these dwarf shrubs the pines, the larches, the thuyas
display all the luxury of their sombre verdure. But at the same time the
melted snows have transformed the soil, recently so hard and polished
like marble, into peaty bogs, where myriads of mosquitoes swarm--an
intolerable scourge, which the traveller can only escape by
surrounding himself with clouds of smoke.

[Illustration: THE DESERT OF ICE (ARCTIC POLE).]

The commencement of the region of "Barren Landes" is marked by a line
drawn from the mouth of the Churchill in Hudson's Bay to Mount St. Elias
on the Pacific coast, and passing by the southern shores of the Bear and
the Slave Lakes. To the north of this region it loses itself in the
eternal ices, with the last shores of the Parry Archipelago; to the east
and to the north-east, the conformity of the soil and the identity of
the climate include within it the greatest part of Labrador and all
Greenland, from which it is only separated accidentally by the breaking
up of the ices which constantly solidify Baffin's Bay, and renders so
difficult, in those districts, the distinction between land and water.
"In these vast countries," say the writers already quoted, "the
primitive crust of the globe preserves still the chaotic character which
it assumed at the moment that its fluid elements congealed. Except at
the bottom of the ravines and hollows, where each winter's thaw has
accumulated long tracts of moss and the wrecks of dwarf willows--the
embryo vegetation of the Polar clime--the slow action of the ages has
nowhere oxidized this rough rude surface to the extent of clothing with
a layer of mould its abrupt nakedness. There no transitionary stratum
extends between the primeval granite and the erupted rocks. There,
prolonged chains of trachyte, and gigantic causeways of basalt, display
again their strata as regular, their ridges as keen, their rents as
deep, as on the morrow of that day when they emerged from the original
chaos. At a great number of points, as at the bottom of Repulse Bay and
in the interior of Melville Island, whole skeletons of whales elevated
from the depths of ocean, with the submarine layer wherein death had
ensepulchred them, have not received in all the ages that have passed by
since their exposure to the day any other shroud than the snows of
successive winters, which, melting before the suns of successive
summers, annually uncovers their whitened bones, irrefragable proofs of
a great geological law."

In Asia, the isothermal line of 0° descends even towards the 55th
parallel of latitude--that is to say, a little lower than in America;
but beyond this line we meet again, as I have already said, with towns
of some importance, such as Tobolsk, the capital of Siberia, in lat. 58°
11' north; Irkutsk, in lat. 58° 16' north; and Iakutsk, in lat. 62°. All
this northern part of Siberia is only distinguished by the greater
rigour of its climate, and by a more and more scanty vegetation from the
great Steppes, of which it is the continuation. However, the
north-eastern extremity, comprising the peninsula of Kamtschatka,
bristles with volcanic mountains which still exhibit some craters in
activity, notably those of Avatcha and Klioutchevskoï, or Klutschew. The
latter belches forth its fires from one of the loftiest summits of the
globe.

In Continental Europe, the only Polar Lands, properly so called, are
Russian Lapland and the deeply-indented coast of Northern Russia. To the
north of the most advanced point of that coast, and separated from the
continent by a narrow arm of the sea, lie three almost contiguous
islands, which form Nova Zembla (lat. 68° 50' to 76° north); desert
islands, inhabited by a few fishermen, and containing a few vegetables
and animals. The western side of the group is traversed by a
mountain-range 2000 feet in height. Finally, almost in the centre of the
Frozen Sea, and at nearly equal distances from the Old and the New
World, rises the gloomy archipelago of Spitzbergen (that is, the Peaked
Mountains), first visited by Barentz in 1596, and lying between the
parallels of 77° and 81°, and the meridians of 10° and 24° east of
Greenwich. Their summits, I need hardly tell you, are shrouded in
eternal ice and snow, and separated by narrow valleys, or rather
ravines, mostly occupied with those slowly-moving ice-rivers called
glaciers. The surrounding seas swarm with fish, and the frozen wastes of
the islands are haunted by the Arctic fox, the reindeer, and the white
bear. The walrus and the seal live upon their shores, which bristle
everywhere with lofty granitic rocks, and glaciers that plunge down into
the very waters. Their extremities are constantly throwing off huge
masses of ice, which float out to sea, and in the shape of icebergs
appal and threaten the mariner. Except during a brief interval of
summer, the access to Spitzbergen is barred by a formidable barrier of
ice, and the channels between the different islands are so blocked up by
the same material, that it was long doubted whether Spitzbergen was not
one large island deeply fissured and intersected by creek and gulf. It
is wholly uninhabited, but the voyager landing at certain points of the
coast--in Madeleine Bay, for example--treads at every step upon human
bones thickly scattered over the snow, pell-mell with the bones of bears
and seals, and upon the ghastly memorials of empty or half-open coffins.
These are the remains, the last relics, of unfortunate seamen slain by
cold and hunger in these desolate regions. For want of strength to dig
decent graves, on account of the thickness of the ice, the survivors
load the coffins with pieces of rock to act as a rampart against the
wild beasts. But "the great man in a pelisse," as the Norwegian hunters
denominate the white bear, has stout arms, and, impelled by famine, he
frequently succeeds in displacing the stones, and making a hideous
banquet off the frozen bodies.

       *       *       *       *       *

The very ocean which washes this gloomy coast shows us the Arctic Desert
under a form which is at once more imposing, more majestic, and more
terrible. On its surface float vast fields, mountains, and banks of ice,
far more formidable to the mariner than the typhoons and cyclones of the
Torrid Zone. These floating ice-mountains proceed, as I have said, from
the terrestrial glaciers which, in these latitudes, descend to the
margin of the sea, frequently project a considerable distance beyond the
coast, and, loosened by their own weight or by the incessant clash and
collision of the waves, splinter into enormous fragments. Hence it is
that their ice, when liquefied, supplies a fresh, sweet, and wholesome
water for drinking purposes. Their outlines are of the most fantastic,
and often of the most beautiful character; old ruined keeps of Norman
castles, long lines of frowning battlements, minarets and domes of
Moorish mosques, and the tapering spires, arched roofs, and flying
buttresses of mediæval cathedrals. Lit up by the radiance of an Arctic
sun, they wear a most singular and weird beauty, and probably the time
may come when the artist will gain that inspiration from their sublime
or graceful shapes which he now seeks in the forest, on the sea-shore,
or in the pine-clad mountain-glen.

Masses of ice rise every year from the bosom, so to speak, of the Polar
Sea, and accumulating together, and with the ruins of half-dissolved
icebergs, gradually develop into immense _ice-fields_, which have often
an area of several thousand square yards. Their thickness varies, but is
always considerably inferior to that of the icebergs. It is not
uncommon, however, for them to attain an elevation of 300 feet, and you
can form an idea of their gigantic dimensions by recollecting that the
submerged portion will be from four to eight times the height of that
which rises above the waves. During the winter, mountains and fields of
ice congeal together in such wise as to spread over the ocean a compact
and impenetrable crust, an immense desert of snow, broken up by walls
and columns--I should rather say, by monuments--of fantastic design,
whose radiant glittering surfaces reflect in changing lights of
amethyst, azure, vermilion, gold, and emerald, the wondrous fires of the
northern auroras. When, after a long absence, the sun returns to dart
obliquely his rays upon the Pole, all this crust splits up and becomes
dislocated; the confusion spreads; the ocean-currents carry off to sea
the blocks and floes of ice which roll, and glide, and chase, and cross
each other, hurtling together in an indescribable mêlée, and with a
fearful tempest of sounds!

This is not the place to speak of the dangers which beset the seaman who
dares to penetrate into the silent recesses of the Polar Seas. And,
indeed, a tale so often told would have little interest for the English
reader, who cannot fail to be familiar with the adventures of the Arctic
explorers, from Hudson to M'Clure, through the long list of honoured and
immortal names--Parry, Ross, Franklin, Scoresby, Davis, M'Clintock, and
Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Too many, alas! have fallen victims to their
heroic courage, and the most fortunate have not returned in safety
without accomplishing prodigies of valour and energy, without
undergoing the severest privations and most terrible sufferings.

Their efforts and their sacrifices, let us add, have not been barren.
Not only has the great North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the
Pacific been finally explored, but the discovery of an open and
comparatively warm sea around the geographical pole of our globe--the
discovery, too, of the magnetic pole, and of the double pole of
cold--ought to be ranked with the most brilliant scientific achievements
on which our age can pride itself. Thanks to those heroes of science,
the Arctic Polar region is now extensively known and very generally
surveyed. It is not possible to say so much of the Antarctic Polar
region. There the approach is not facilitated by any continent, or,
indeed, any fraction of a continent. The "Land of Fire" (_Tierra del
Fuego_), which is the nearest point, is not calculated to brighten the
hopes of the explorer, and the difficulties and perils which oppose
themselves to his southward progress seem insurmountable. Three
illustrious travellers--sons of England, France, and America
respectively--Sir James Ross, Dumont D'Urville, and Rear-Admiral Charles
Wilkes, attempted, however, in the first half of the present century, to
penetrate the mystery which enshrouds this extremity of our globe.

After sailing for many days amongst prodigious icebergs, which sometimes
threatened to crush his ships, and sometimes to immure them in a gloomy
prison, Dumont D'Urville considered himself fortunate in sighting, on
the very line of the Antarctic Circle, a range of black rocky cliffs
which he named Clarie Coast and Adelie Land. About the same time
Rear-Admiral Wilkes discovered, in 67° 4' south latitude, and 147° 30'
east longitude, a bay which he called the Bay of Disappointment, because
he found himself there stopped short by impassable ice, and deceived in
his hope of reaching the Austral Continent. The same navigator, in 65°
59' south latitude, and 105° 18' east longitude, saw, or thought he saw,
an extent of coast which he computed at 65 miles in length, and 3000
feet in elevation above the sea-level. This coast appeared to him
entirely covered with snow. Disembarking at the point mentioned, he
ascertained the presence, under the snow, of clay, red granite, and
basalt, but no sign of stratification. On the beach, frequented by the
Cachalot whale, the seal, and legions of sea-birds, were found numerous
zoophytes and some small crustaceans.

[Illustration: ADELIE LAND (ANTARCTIC OCEAN).]

The accuracy of the American navigator's observations has been, however,
disputed by geographers, and in 1841 Sir James Ross demonstrated that
the threshold of this problematical continent was, at least in certain
places, much more distant than Wilkes had supposed. Sir James himself
discovered, between 70° and 78° south latitude, an extensive tract of
land which he named _South Victoria_, and which extends nearer the
South Pole than any other yet known. Its shores are rendered imposing by
a line of lofty and snow-crowned mountains, some of which are volcanic.
To two of the more majestic of these the English voyager gave the names
of his two ships--Mount _Erebus_ and Mount _Terror_. The former is
12,400 feet in height.[192]

Sir James Ross traced the continents of this desolate icy coast for
seven hundred miles, until his progress was arrested by a solid
impenetrable barrier of lofty ice. He reached, however, on another
meridian, the latitude of 78° 4' south, the nearest approach yet made to
the Antarctic Pole.



CHAPTER II.

ANIMAL LIFE AND VEGETABLE LIFE IN THE POLAR DESERTS.


The mantle which Flora has spread over the naked body of this earth is,
says Humboldt, unequally woven. Thickest in those places where the sun
soars to a great altitude in a cloudless sky, it is of thinner texture
towards the poles, where Nature seems benumbed and torpid, where the
precipitate return of frost leaves no time for the buds to unfold, and
surprises the fruits before they have attained maturity.

The number of plants capable of withstanding the prolonged and terrible
Arctic winters, and of contenting themselves with the scanty heat and
light which the pale sun of those regions pours upon them during his
brief stay above the horizon, is, in effect, very limited. We have seen,
in the preceding chapter, how restricted is the flora of that part of
the American polar lands which has received the somewhat ambitious
appellation of the "Wooded Region." This flora, so poor and stunted, is
nevertheless the flora of a comparatively fortunate zone. We find it,
with some variations, to the north of Sweden, Russia, and Siberia.
There we encounter those ultimate masses of foliage which have any
pretensions to the title of Forests--Pines, Firs, Elms, and Birches are
the only species which compose them. Further north these trees form but
small woods, alternating with clumps of poplars and dwarf willows. The
Myrtle of our sub-Alpine forests, and a small winding Honeysuckle, with
rounded leaves, rosy and fragrant flowers, cover in certain places
considerable surfaces. Still further north the arborescent species are
completely wanting; but vivacious plants, belonging to the families of
Ranunculaceæ, Saxifragaceæ, Cruciferæ, and Gramineæ, spread out their
flowers on the surface of the rocks. To the firs and birches, already so
stinted, succeed, in the same localities, a few scattered shrubs; among
others, the thorny Gooseberry bush, the common Strawberry, the
Raspberry-pseudo-Mulberry (_Rubus Chamæmorus_)--exclusively indigenous
to these regions--and the Oleander of Lapland (_Rhododendron
Laponicum_). Still advancing northward, we meet, on the extreme confines
of the continent, some Dravas (_Cruciferæ_), Potentillas (_Rosaceæ_),
Bur-weeds and Rushes (_Cyperaceæ_), and, finally, a few Mosses and
Lichens. The commonest mosses are the _Splechnum_, which resemble small
umbels; and, in moist localities, the _Sphagnum_, or _Bog-Moss_, whose
successive accumulation, from a very remote epoch, has formed, with the
detritus of some _Cyperaceæ_, extensive breadths of peat, which might be
utilized as a combustible. The lichens and the mosses are the last
plants which, owing to the simplicity of their organization, are able to
develop and reproduce themselves on the Arctic rocks and under the dense
layer of snow which covers them. Their abundance in almost all the polar
wastes, where every other nutritious plant is wanting, proves an
inestimable benefit for the few inhabitants of those deserts. It will
suffice to mention, as representatives of the singular family of
Cryptogams, the Iceland Moss, which medical science employs in the
treatment of pulmonary diseases; and the Reindeer Moss, whose foliaceous
expansions frequently cover vast extents of soil, and form veritable
pasture-grounds where the reindeer find almost their only nutriment.

But if the Polar Flora offers few details of interest, it is otherwise
with the Polar Fauna. The most important orders of the Animal Kingdom,
and particularly of the class _Mammalia_, are there represented by
species not less worthy of attention than those that people the savage
countries of the torrid and temperate zones.

       *       *       *       *       *

Among the _Ruminantia_ we may mention the Eland and the Stag of Canada,
which range--the former in the Old and New Continents, the latter in the
New World only--to a very high latitude; but, to confine myself to the
characteristic species of the Hyperborean Fauna, I shall here speak only
of the Musk-Ox and the Reindeer.

The Musk-Ox, or Ovibos (_Ovibos Moschatus_), is, as its zoological name
indicates, an intermediate animal between the ox and the sheep. Smaller
than the former, larger than the latter, he reminds us equally of both
in his form and appearance. He has an obtuse nose; horns broad at the
base, covering the forehead and crown of the head, and curving downwards
between the eye and ear until about the level of the mouth, where they
turn upwards; the tail is short, and almost lost in the thickness of the
hair, which is generally of a dark brown, and of two kinds, as with all
the animals of Polar regions,--a long hair, which on some parts of the
body is thick and curled, and, beneath it, a fine kind of soft,
ash-coloured wool; the legs are short and thick, and furnished with
narrow hoofs, resembling those of the moose. The female is smaller than
the male, and has also smaller horns. Her general colour is black,
except that the legs are whitish; and along the back runs an elevated
ridge or mane of dusky hair.

The musk-ox, as might be inferred from his name, exhales a strong odour
of musk, with which his very flesh is impregnated, and which
communicates itself to the knife employed in cutting him up. Not the
less is he esteemed a precious prey by the Indians and Eskimos, who hunt
him actively. He wanders in small herds over the rocky prairies which
stretch to the north of the great lakes of North America. He is an
irascible animal, and will fight desperately in defence of the female.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Reindeer (_Cervus Turandus_) is about the size of our English stag,
but of a squatter and less graceful form. He stands about four feet six
inches high. His head is crowned with remarkably long and slender horns;
and they have branched, recurved, and round antlers, whose summits are
palmated. His colour is brown above and white beneath; but as the animal
advances in age, it changes into a grayish-white, and is sometimes
almost wholly white. The nether part of the neck droops like a kind of
hanging beard. His hoofs are large, long, and black; and so are the
secondary hoofs behind. The latter, while the reindeer is running, make
by their collision a curious clattering sound, which may be heard at a
considerable distance.

This species formerly spread over Europe and Asia to a tolerably low
latitude.Cæsar particularizes it among the animals of the Hercynian
Forest. Even at the present day troops of wild reindeer traverse the
wooded summits of the prolongation of the Ural Mountains. They advance
between the Don and the Volga to the 46th parallel of latitude; and they
extend their wanderings even to the foot of the Caucasus, on the banks
of the Kouma. But their true habitat is that belt of ice and snow
bounded by the Arctic polar circle, or, more properly, by the isothermal
line of 0° centigrade. "Both the wild and the tame reindeer," says
Desmoulins, " change their feeding-grounds with the seasons. In winter
they descend into the plains and valleys; in summer they take refuge
upon the mountains, where the wild herds gain the loftiest terraces, the
more easily to escape the attacks of gadflies and other insect enemies.
It is very remarkable that each species of animal has, so to speak, his
insect parasite. The oestre so terrifies the reindeer that the mere
appearance of one in the air will infuriate a herd of a thousand
animals. As it is then the moulting season, these insects deposit their
eggs in the skin, where the larvæ lodge and multiply _ad infinitum_,
incessantly renewing centres of suppuration."

[Illustration: THE REINDEER OF LAPLAND.]

To the natives of North America, says a zoologist, the reindeer is only
known as a beast of chase, but he is a most important one. There is
hardly a part of the animal which is not made available to some useful
purpose. Clothing made of the skin is, according to Sir J. Richardson,
so impervious to the cold, that, with the addition of a blanket of the
same material, any one so clothed may bivouac on the snow with safety in
the most intense cold of an Arctic winter's night. The venison, when in
high condition, has several inches of fat on the haunches, and said to
equal that of the fallow-deer in our best English parks: the tongue and
some of the tripe are reckoned most delicious morsels. Pemmican is
formed by pouring one-third part of melted fat over the pounded meat,
and incorporating them well together. The Eskimos and Greenlanders
consider the stomach or paunch, with its contents, a great delicacy; and
Captain Sir James Ross says that these contents form the only vegetable
food which the natives of Boothia ever taste.[193]

       *       *       *       *       *

The order of _Rodents_ has no other representatives in the Arctic
Deserts than the Arctic Hare and the Alpine Lagomys. The former is a
little larger than our European hare. His abundant fur, gray in summer,
grows white in winter, and affords him protection, by a merciful
provision of nature, against the carnivorous beasts of prey. It becomes
impossible to discern him from the snowy mantle which covers all the
earth. He is a native of Labrador and Greenland.

The Lagomys are small animals, scarcely exceeding the Guinea-pig in
size, and measuring only nine inches in length. His long head is
ornamented with a pair of short, broad, and rounded ears. He inhabits
the Altaï Mountains, but extends even into Kamtschatka, seeking an
asylum in the wooded tracts among the mossy rocks and flashing
waterfalls, lodging in the fissures or burrowing in the most
sequestered corners. During the autumn he lays up a store of winter
provision by collecting the finest grass and moss and herbs. These he
dries in the sun, and disposes in small heaps or hayricks, which vary in
size according to the number of animals employed, and frequently furnish
the sable-hunter with provender for his horse in the hour of direst
emergency.

       *       *       *       *       *

The group of Arctic Carnivora, more numerous than the reader would at
the first glance suppose, includes those animals which furnish commerce
with the costliest furs.

Except the Fox and the White Bear, of which I shall presently speak, all
these Carnivora belong to the family which has for its type the
"long-spined animal"--the common European Weasel (_Mustela_)--and which
borrows from it its zoological appellation of _Mustelidæ_.

In this family the most remarkable genera are undoubtedly the Martens,
the Polecats, the Gluttons, and the Otters.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Martens of the North are cousins-german of the weasels, so justly
feared by our farmers and villagers on account of the extensive
depredations which they commit in the poultry-yard. The martens are not
less ferocious; but in the fir and birch forests which they inhabit, it
is upon the small rodents, the birds, and, when necessity prompts, upon
the reptiles, that they exercise their sanguinary tyranny. They scale
trees as nimbly as cats; and their flexible body enables them to
introduce themselves into the smallest openings, where a cat could not
pass, and into the burrows and fissures of the trees or rocks which
serve as an asylum for their victims. They are, moreover, very pretty
animals, with lively manners, a cunning physiognomy, and a rich furry
attire. Besides the ordinary marten, which is found in all the north of
Europe, zoologists distinguish in this genus several species exclusively
indigenous to the coldest regions of the two continents. The most
renowned for the beauty of his coat is the Zibelline, or Sable, which we
must look for in Northern Russia and Siberia. Its hairs, whose general
shade is a grayish-brown, possess this singular property, which
distinguishes them from every other kind of fur--they have no particular
inclination, and consequently may be laid down indifferently in any
direction whatever.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: ERMINE AND SABLE-MARTEN.]

The genus Polecat (_Mustela putarius_) comprehends the smallest of all
known Carnivora--the Weasel, the Ferret, and the Ermine. The temperate
countries of Europe possess one variety of the latter species; but the
ermines of the extreme north have a much fuller and softer fur. These
animals, like many others, change their garb according to the season.
The ermine, which poets have adopted as the emblem of purity, on account
of his spotless whiteness, in reality only merits that dangerous honour
in the winter; it is then only that he assumes that immaculate robe
which the proudest monarchs are content to wear. In summer its colour is
a clear maroon. His tail alone remains at all times of a beautiful
shining black.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Glutton (_Gulo Arcticus_) is a carnivorous quadruped of a very
voracious nature, about the size of a large badger, between which and
the polecat he appears to form a link. His legs are short and robust; he
has a compact body, large head, and unwieldy gait. His ears are small;
his tail is short and tufted. His skin is a black brown on the top of
the head and back; a white line extends along each flank, from the
shoulder to the root of the tail. The muzzle is black; the remainder of
the body a deep brown. Like most of the mammals of the Polar region, he
has two kinds of hair--the upper long and coarse, the lower soft, fine,
and of an uniform brown colour. The glutton owes his name to his extreme
voracity. He does not fear to attack animals of the size of the
reindeer; he leaps upon them, fastens his claws in them, rends them to
pieces, until at length they fall exhausted. After having gorged himself
on their flesh and blood, he hides the remainder for another repast.

       *       *       *       *       *

The genus Otter (_Lutra vulgaris_) comprehends several species,
distributed over nearly all the countries of the world. I shall here
speak only of the Otter of Kamtschatka, or Sea Otter (_Enhydra lutris_),
so named on account of his essentially aquatic habits. He weighs from
seventy to eighty pounds. In full season his colour is perfectly black;
at other times, of a dark brown. He attains the length of three feet,
including his tail; has hind-feet resembling those of a seal; the upper
jaw is armed with six, and the lower with four incisors. The grinders
are broad, and well adapted for crunching crustaceous animals. He runs
with great rapidity, and swims with astonishing ease and swiftness. Of
late years, however, he has been the object of so murderous a chase on
the part of the Russian and American hunters that he has almost
disappeared from the Polar shores. The skins of the sea otter are much
prized by the Chinese, who pay for them from seventy to one hundred
roubles a-piece. Very few ever reach the European market.

       *       *       *       *       *

Among those Carnivora which are able to accommodate themselves to the
severest climates, I may mention the Foxes. These animals attire
themselves, under the Polar latitudes, in a fur of sufficient thickness
to endure the intense cold they are required to support; and this fur is
esteemed among the most precious varieties, under the names of Isatis
skin, White Fox, Black, Blue, and Tricoloured Foxskins. The shades vary
according to Reynard's habitat, his age, and also the season; they
correspond in like manner to the differences of race, but not to the
differences of species. The most valuable skins are obtained from those
foxes which belong to very cold countries; and it seems that as they
recede from a certain latitude, they lose their value. "Some Blue Foxes
were killed by our hunters," says Madame Léonie d'Aunet, "which were
stunted and ugly. The Spitzbergen foxes do not in any respect resemble
the foxes of Iceland or Siberia, whose fur is so beautiful and in such
high repute. That they may be thoroughly protected from the cold, they
do not wear upon their bodies a fur so much as several thick folds or
layers of very thick hair, so intermingled and threaded that it is
rather a mattress than a coat of fur. Moreover, instead of being of a
somewhat tawny colour, like the Iceland foxes, they are of an
ashen-gray. Their skin, nevertheless, is excellently adapted for making
carpets."

I see no intermediaries between the small Carnivora we have just passed
in review, and the formidable tyrant of the icy Deserts, the Polar or
Marine Bear (_Ursus marinus_), popularly known as the White Bear; an
improper appellation, as it confounds the Bear of the Arctic Seas with
the Albino variety of the Common Bear.

The former constitutes a perfectly distinct species, whose
characteristics, apart from the yellowish-white colour of his rich soft
fur, are a flattened and elongated head, a long neck, high legs, and
feet whose conformation is admirably adapted to the habitat and
amphibious existence of the animal. In fact, the sole of each foot is
garnished with a thick fleece, which permits the Arctic bear to walk on
the ice as on a carpet, and the toes are connected by a membrane which
renders them eminently fit for natatory purposes.

The Arctic bear seldom visits the land; his favourite sojourn is the
floating ice-field, and his diet the corpses of whales and seals, or
even living _Phocæ_, which he fearlessly attacks at the impulse of
hunger. "On seeing his intended prey," says Captain Lyon, "he gets
quietly into the water, and swims until to leeward of him, from whence,
by frequent short dives, he silently makes his approaches, and so
arranges his distances that at the last dive he comes to the spot where
the seal is lying. If the poor animal attempts to escape by rolling into
the water, he falls into the bear's clutches; if, on the contrary, he
lies still, his destroyer makes a powerful spring, kills him on the ice,
and devours him at leisure."

In cases of urgency the bear does not scruple to make a prey of man, and
he is assuredly a formidable antagonist. His dimensions are enormous; he
is endowed with prodigious strength. Some individuals have been met with
who measured nine to ten feet in length. Their average size is about six
feet in length, and about three in height, to the top of the shoulder.
Spite of their ferocity, which with them, as with nearly all the
Carnivora, is a natural consequence of their appetite, the white bears
are sociable in their habits: they frequently wander about in small
troops, and those of a family invariably "flock together." The male, the
mother, and their young are united by the ties of an affection which is
capable of the most intrepid devotion. The female especially watches
over her cubs with the most anxious solicitude, and defends them to the
last extremity. Of this philoprogenitiveness a voyager relates what
seems to me a truly pathetic example:--

[Illustration: THE WHITE BEAR AND HER CUBS.]

A vessel belonging to a small squadron commanded by Captain Philippe was
caught in the Polar ice. One morning, the look-out man signalled the
approach of three bears, which were advancing rapidly towards the
vessel, attracted by the odour of some seal's flesh roasted on the
previous evening. The three consisted of a she bear and her two cubs.
The seamen at a suitable moment fired at the latter, and killed them.
The mother was also wounded, but not mortally. It was a spectacle which
drew tears from the least susceptible to see the marks of sorrow and
tenderness lavished by this poor beast upon her young. She carried to
them a piece of the flesh which she had taken possession of, and divided
it into two portions, which she placed before them. Seeing that they did
not eat, she touched them alternately with her fore-paws, and
endeavoured to raise them, uttering at the same time the most lamentable
groans. Then she withdrew, halted a few paces, and summoned her little
ones by a low sad cry. As they remained insensible to her appeal, she
returned to them, moved them anew, smelt them on every side, dragged
them some distance, again returned, still moaning and bewailing, licked
their wounds, called them; and finally, when assured that they had
ceased to live, and understanding what had transpired, she stood half
erect by a great effort, turned towards the ship, and gave vent to a
roar of agony and rage, an unmistakable imprecation against her
murderers. The latter replied with a discharge of musketry. The poor
bear fell smitten between her two little ones, and died licking their
wounds.

       *       *       *       *       *

Among other Mammiferous animals belonging to the Polar regions, my space
only permits me a brief allusion to the Seal and the Walrus. The Seal
(_Phoca vitulina_) seems to the eye a compound of the fish and the
quadruped; having the tail of the former, the head, spine, and body of
the latter. Its physiognomy is remarkable for its peculiarly mild and
intelligent expression. Its elongated, conical body tapers from the
shoulders to the tail. Its feet are of singular construction. They are
covered with a membrane, and so united to the body that they might be
mistaken for fins, but for the sharp strong claws that terminate them.

Seals swim with great rapidity, and can remain under water for a
considerable period. The species are very numerous. The Greenland or
Harp Seal (_Phoca Greenlandica_) measures about six feet in length. The
Bearded Seal (_P. barbata_) is from seven to ten feet long. The largest
known species is the Elephant Seal or Sea-Elephant (_Macrorhinus
proboscideus_), whose girth at the largest part of the body is from
fifteen to eighteen feet, and its length from twenty-five to thirty
feet. It is a native of the Antarctic Seas. The Sea-Lion (_Platyrhynchus
leoninus_), so called from its long full mane, inhabits both the
northern and southern coasts of the Pacific. The Sea-Bear
(_Arctocephalus ursinus_) derives its name from the fur and shape of the
head.

The Walrus or Morse (_Trichecus_) is a genus of the Phocidæ, or Seal
family, distinguished by its widely different cranium and teeth. In the
adult lower jaw are neither incisors nor canines, while the upper
bristles with two enormous tusks, which are directed downwards, and are
sometimes two feet long. It chiefly feeds upon molluscs and marine
vegetables, and its flesh in its turn affords a dainty repast to the
inhabitants of the Polar Deserts.



CHAPTER III.

     THE INHABITANTS OF THE ARCTIC WILDERNESSES:--THE
     LAPLANDERS--SAMOIEDES--OSTIAKS--KAMTSCHATDALES--ESKIMOS, OR
     ESQUIMAUX.


To the various populations which occupy the Arctic regions of both the
Old and the New World, the general appellation of Hyperboreans is
sometimes given. Do these populations truly form, as some ethnologists
assert, a distinct and homogeneous race; or are they not rather
independent offshoots of the Japhetic race in Europe, of the Mongolian
in Asia, of the Redskins in America? To this question I can give no
satisfactory reply. I will only say that if the different fractions of
this great group exhibit among themselves external differences of a very
marked character, they are drawn together, on the other hand, by no less
striking resemblances. In truth, these resemblances are markedly
physiological, and should, I think, be exclusively attributed to the
powerful and irresistible action of external agencies. If there be,
indeed, one region where the influence of climate on the constitution of
man is manifest, that region is assuredly the Polar Zone. There the
conditions of life differ wholly from those which prevail in all other
parts of the globe, and it necessarily results that modifications take
place in the organism of the men subject to those conditions, which
ought to be regarded as wholly independent of the origin of races and of
their ethnographic characters properly so called.

The Hyperboreans are small, squat, ugly, and deformed. Their legs are
short and sufficiently straight, but so thick, says Bory de St. Vincent,
that to the spectator they seem swollen and diseased. Their head is
generally of large size. They have long, coarse, straight hair, a thin
beard, a broad countenance, a great mouth, high cheek-bones, and
half-closed eyes, of a light colour, as gray or yellowish, but never
blue. Their complexion is sometimes of a yellowish-white, as with the
Laplanders; sometimes of a deep yellow or reddish-brown, as with the
Eskimos and the Greenlanders. The latter peculiarity may be invoked as a
very plausible argument in support of the opinion which gives to the
Arctic peoples different origins. It shows also, once more, that the
more or less intense colouring of the skin among the African races is
not an effect of the solar heat, as was commonly supposed.

Considered from a physiological point of view, the Hyperboreans are
distinguished by a remarkable uniformity of characteristics, which
deserve to be specified. The sanguine temperament predominates among
them. Their nervous system is but slightly developed, their sensibility
blunted, their intelligence slow, their imagination feeble. Their
external perspiration is almost null, and they are accustomed to
suppress it entirely by induing their bodies in oily substances. On the
other hand, their organs of nutrition and respiration are endowed with
an extraordinary activity; and in this lies the secret of the extreme
facility with which they support for several successive months the most
rigorous cold. We know, indeed, that man and the warm-blooded animals
possess, in their respiratory apparatus, a positive internal furnace,
where a notable part of the carbon and the hydrogen contained in their
venous blood is consumed in contact with the air. But to maintain this
furnace at such a degree of heat as shall always preserve the
temperature of the body at its normal standard (39° C.), the inhabitants
of Arctic climes need constantly feed it with fuel, that is, with
substances rich in carbon and hydrogen. Hence the keen appetite of the
Hyperboreans for oil, fat, and flesh; hence, too, their voracity. The
inhabitants of torrid or temperate regions, while sojourning among the
icy wastes of the Pole, quickly become sensible of the same necessity,
and eagerly feed upon aliments which elsewhere would inspire them with
insurmountable disgust.

It is a remarkable fact that most of the diseases so frequent and so
murderous in civilized countries are unknown in the Polar lands. But, on
the other hand, ophthalmia is endemic, and the cutaneous affections, as
well as cerebral and pulmonary congestion, are of common occurrence. To
sum up: the already scattered and scanty population of the Arctic Zone
is daily decreasing, and will probably be extinct in a few generations.

The manners of all the Hyperboreans present the same general features:
they are peaceable, inoffensive, and reduced, if I may use the
expression, to the utmost possible minimum of physical and intellectual
activity. This race, or group of races, is represented on the two
continents by several distinct peoples. Those most clearly defined
are:--

    In Europe, the Laplanders (or Lapps), and the Samoiedes;
    In Asia, the Ostiaks, Yakouts, and Kamtschatdales; and,
    In North America, the Eskimos (or Esquimaux).

The Laplanders inhabit the northernmost coasts of the Scandinavian
peninsula. They are ignorant, uncultivated, and _torpid_, rather than
savage. In spite of their frequent contact with the Russians and the
Swedes, they have no industrial resources, no art, no other commerce
than that which is afforded by the products of the chase, of their
fisheries, or their herds of reindeer. Christianity, to which they were
converted about two centuries ago, has not aroused them as yet from
their moral and intellectual lethargy. All religion being reduced, so
far as they are concerned, to oral tradition, the devotion of each is in
proportion to his memory. Education among them has attained to this
standard, that a Laplander who knows his alphabet corresponds to a young
man among us who has graduated at Oxford or Cambridge.

A French traveller, M. de Saint-Blaize, furnishes some details
respecting this people:--

"The race of Laplanders is constantly diminishing in numbers. It is of
Asiatic origin, as may be clearly discerned in their language and the
type of their physiognomy. Some are fishers, and dwell upon the coast;
others are shepherds, who traverse the mountains in every direction,
pasturing their reindeer on the white moss. During the three months'
summer the Laplander leads his herd into the elevated regions, to
withdraw them from the excessive heats and the mosquito-plagues: in
winter, he brings them near the dwellings of men, principally for the
sake of protecting them more effectually from his bitter enemies, the
wolves, of whom he never speaks but with a sentiment of profound hatred.
The Laplander's wealth is his herd, which feeds him, clothes him, and
procures him, by way of barter, brandy and tobacco, the only objects of
his desire.

[Illustration: LAPLAND FISHERS.]

"The independent life of this nomadic people is not without its charm.
Accustomed from his infancy to privations and fatigues of every kind,
the Laplander suffers little. His body acquires an extraordinary vigour,
and most of our maladies are unknown to him. If during a journey a
Lapland woman gives birth to a child, she places the new-born in a piece
of hollow wood, where a hole has been cut out to receive the little
one's head; then slings this cradle on her back, and resumes her
journey. When she halts, she suspends her wooden chrysalid to a tree,
and the wire-work protects it from the teeth of ferocious beasts. The
reverse of this simple medal is an old age almost inevitably very
unhappy. It is said that when a Laplander has no longer the strength to
render himself useful, his children abandon him by the roadside, with
just provisions enough to support him for a few days. The traveller
frequently encounters in the forest the skeletons of old men who have
thus perished in gloomy solitude."

The cradle to which our authority refers is described by Professor
Forbes as cut out of solid wood and covered with leather, in flaps so
arranged as to lace across the top with leathern thongs; the inside and
the little pillow are rendered tolerably soft with reindeer moss, and
the infant fits the space so exactly, that it can neither stir hand nor
foot.

The Lapp hut, says Professor Forbes,[194] is formed interiorly of wood,
by means of curved ribs uniting near the centre in a ring, which is
open, and allows free escape for the smoke; the fire being lighted in
the centre of the floor. The exterior is covered with turf. The door is
of wood on one side. The inmates recline on skins on the floor, with
their feet towards the fire; and behind them, on a row of stones near
the wall of the hut, are their various utensils. Their clothing--chiefly
of tanned skins and woollen stuffs--looked very dirty.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: A SAMOIEDE FAMILY.]

The Samoiedes (or Samoyedes) are scattered, to the number of about a
thousand families, along the coasts of the Frozen Sea, in the government
of Archangel, and, in Siberia, in the governments of Tobolsk and Tomsk.
Ethnologists generally consider them to have a common origin with the
Finns of Europe. In stature they are somewhat taller than the Lapps,
and their colour is more of a tawny. The marked features of their
countenance recall the Hindu type. The forehead is high, the hair black,
the nose long, the mouth well-formed; but the sunken eye, veiled by a
heavy lid, expresses a cruel and perfidious nature. The manners of the
Samoiedes are brutal. In character they are wily, fierce, and cunning.
They are shepherds, hunters, traders, and, when opportunity serves,
robbers. They clothe themselves in reindeer-skins, like the other
Hyperboreans of the old continent. They shave off their hair, except a
tolerably large tuft which they allow to flourish on the top of the
head, and they pluck out the beard as fast as it grows. The women adorn
themselves with a belt of gilded copper, and with a profusion of
ornaments in glass beads and metal. They are heathens, worshipping the
sun and moon, the water and the trees; in fact, whatever object meets
their eyes they convert into a deity; and, above all, they adore the
bear, offering prayers and sacrifices to him before venturing on an
expedition to hunt him down!

       *       *       *       *       *

The Ostiaks and the Yakouts are established in the northernmost
districts of Siberia, from the Oural Mountains to Kamtschatka. I borrow
from a Polish lady, Madame Felinska, long exiled in Siberia, some
curious details relative to the Ostiaks, whom, during her banishment,
she had numerous opportunities of studying. Seeking one day a pathway
through a wood, she encountered a couple of Ostiaks on the point of
performing their religious duties. These consist in placing themselves
before a tree--a larch in preference--in the wildest and densest part of
the forest, and there executing a series of epileptic contortions. Such
pagan demonstrations are forbidden them, says Madame Felinska; but,
despite the Christianity which they have professed to accept, they are
and will remain pagans.

Nearly every Ostiak carries about his person a rude image of the
divinities which he adores under the name of _Schaïtan_; but this does
not prevent him from wearing on his breast a small copper crucifix. The
Schaïtan represents the human figure, carved in wood, or, rather, cut
out of a small fragment of wood. It is of different sizes, according to
the price and the various uses for which it is intended: if for carrying
on the person, it is small; images for decorating the hut are much
larger; but in every case the god is clothed in seven pearl-embroidered
chemises, and suspended to the neck by a chaplet of silver coins. The
wooden deity occupies the place of honour in the huts and cottages, and
before commencing a repast, they take care to offer him the daintiest
morsel, smearing his lips with fish or raw game; when this sacred duty
is performed, they eat in contentment.

The priests of the Ostiaks are called _Scha-mans_; they enjoy immense
influence, which they employ in furtherance of the basest superstition
and in promotion of their own personal interest. Ambition and egotism
dispense with knowledge and science in order to corrupt mankind.

[Illustration: YAKOUT HUNTER WORRIED BY A WHITE BEAR.]

The Ostiaks and the Samoiedes are great hunters of the white bear. It is
the same with the Yakouts, a people dwelling near the Bouriats, and
approaching, like them, to the Mongol type. It seems that the object of
the chase is not always to kill the animal, but to catch him alive.
Madame Felinska relates that she saw one day a considerable troop of
bears conducted to Bérézov like a herd of tame cattle, and apparently
quite as inoffensive. She neglects to inform us, however, by what means
they had been reduced to this state of passive obedience. The Ostiaks
and the Yakouts frequently attack the white bears body to body, without
any other weapon than a hatchet or a long cutlass. They need to strike
the animal with extreme skill and vigour, to slay him at the first blow,
or otherwise they incur extreme peril. If he misses his stroke, the
hunter's only resource is to fling himself on the ground and lie
motionless, until the bear, while smelling his body and turning him
over, incautiously offers himself again to his attack.

The Yakouts are nearly of average height. They are robust and brave,
honest and hospitable, but addicted to idolatry and polygamy.

[Illustration: KAMTSCHATDALES.]

The Kamtschatdales are smaller and shorter than the Yakouts. They have a
round flat face, a broad depressed nose, and prominent cheek-bones. They
are of a friendly, mild, and peaceable character. They have a strong
partiality for the song and the dance, and their amusements frequently
degenerate into orgies. Small-pox and excessive brandy-drinking have
reduced to a few hundred families a population which numbered, a century
ago, fully 15,000 souls.

One sole population inhabits the immense icy plains which extend into
America even beyond the Polar circle. I refer to the Eskimos, who are
found--encamped in summer under tents made of reindeer or seal-skin,
hidden in winter in their snow-huts--from Behring's Strait even to Cape
Farewell. This race has the reddish-brown tint of the North American
Indians. In its small stature and physical forms it does not differ from
other Hyperboreans; but in physiognomy and the flattened skull it
singularly recalls the men of lofty stature who inhabit the other
extremity of the American continent, the Patagonians. The physiognomy,
the character, and the manners of the Eskimos have been frequently
described. The courageous navigators who have explored the Polar Sea in
quest of a North-west Passage have held frequent intercourse with these
poor people, and all agree in eulogizing their gentleness, their
patriarchal life, their eagerness to succour strangers. An American,
Captain Hall, the last adventurer who has set himself the task of
discovering the wrecks of Franklin's ill-fated expedition, spent a whole
year in the midst of the Eskimos, whose amiability and generosity he
praises in no stinted terms. Exclusively hunters and fishers, the
Eskimos have no other domestic animal than the dog; they harness it to
their sledges, and also train it to chase the seal, the walrus, and the
reindeer. It is in the summer only that they hunt the latter animal. In
that genial season there is no lack of other game, terrestrial and
marine. It is for them a season of abundance, wherein they gorge
themselves with flesh, blood, and fat. During the winter they often fast
several days at a time, and remain immured in their huts like
hybernating animals; but at length, driven by famine and by want of oil,
they go forth upon the ice in search of the seals which come up to
breathe. When they have been fortunate enough to kill one, they divide
it amongst them amicably, and regale themselves upon it until only the
bones remain, after which they endure a new period of privation. Thus
they live from day to day, in continual alternations of gluttony and
abstinence, without injury to their health, and without shortening their
lives. And it is worthy of notice that Europeans who once consent to
adopt this regime--to drink the warm blood and eat the raw flesh and fat
of seals--soon accept of it without the slightest repugnance, and become
capable of enduring, like true Hyperboreans, the terrible cold of the
long Polar winters.

       *       *       *       *       *

The inhabitants of Sagalien, one of the northerly Asiatic islands, are a
race called the Anios, the same people who form the aboriginal
population of Jesso, and some tribes of whom also dwell on the opposite
shores of Manchooria. They are uncultured and pagan savages, who dwell
in huts built of rough logs, and live upon the proceeds of their fishery
and the chase. Their women are ugly and little; the men are tall, lithe,
straight, and strong, with flowing hair and unkempt beard and
moustaches. Like the Samoiedes they worship the bear; feasting the
living animals on the choicest dried fish, and planting young pines
round the cages in which they are kept. Their graves they regard with
similar feelings of veneration.

       *       *       *       *       *

The other Hyperborean races do not widely differ in character and
physical appearance from those already described.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER IV.

THE MOUNTAINS.

    "Blue, and baseless, and beautiful,
     Did the boundless mountains bear
     Their folded shadows into the golden air.
     The comfortlessness of their chasms was full
     Of orient cloud and undulating mist,
     Which, when their silver cataracts hissed,
     Quivered with panting colour."
                 RUSKIN.


From the Polar deserts to the icy crests of the mountains the transition
is natural. There are here, so to speak, two varieties of a single
class of deserts, which we might call the Deserts of Cold, since the
coldness of the climate is the dominant cause which in both renders the
soil more and more unproductive and uninhabitable. In effect, it is not
only in departing from the Tropic Zone that we see the mean temperature
gradually sinking even to the point whereat all liquids congeal and all
terrestrial life becomes impossible. The same phenomenon occurs in
proportion as we ascend in the atmosphere. It is a consequence of the
properties of the gaseous medium which envelops our globe, and takes
place in obedience to certain laws which science has been able to
ascertain and define. We know now that the decline of the temperature is
always in proportion to the elevation of places or of the atmospheric
strata; but the value of the relation which exists between the two terms
may be modified by various circumstances--such as the direction of the
prevailing wind, the hygrometrical state of the atmosphere, the hour of
the day, and particularly the climate, or, to speak more exactly, the
thermic latitude. The warmer the climate, the more sensible the
difference between the temperature of the air at the level of the sea
and that which we observe at a certain height; greater, nevertheless, is
the height to which we must rise to find the region where the
thermometer never descends below 0°, and where, consequently, the snows
and ices of the mountains do not melt in any season.

As a mean, we estimate every 580 feet of elevation in the Torrid Zone as
equal to one thermometrical degree, and in the Temperate Zone at one
degree for every 450 feet, the cooling of the air. That is, for every
580 feet in the one instance, and every 450 feet in the other, as we
ascend above the sea's level, the temperature decreases one degree. In
the Polar regions the decrease of temperature is insensible up to a
certain height, which has not yet been ascertained. At Ingloolich, in
69° 21' north latitude, Captain Parry flew a kite to a height of 400
feet, with an _à minima_ thermometer attached. At this elevation the
temperature of the air was 31° below zero, or the same as on the
ice-fields of the sea. Humboldt counted one degree of declination for
every 550 feet on Chimborazo. De Saussure obtained one degree for every
440 feet on Mont Blanc.

The limit of eternal snows, or perpetual snow-line, which at the Pole
sinks to the very level of ocean, rises higher and higher as it
approaches the lower latitudes, and attains its maximum elevation
towards the Equinoctial Line. It follows, that in the countries
bordering on the Arctic Circle, mountains of very moderate altitude show
themselves all through the year in a shroud of radiant snow; while,
under the Tropics, if we would meet with masses of eternal ice, we must
mount to a height of 13,500 feet and more. The limit of the permanent
snows is, however, affected by a variety of local circumstances, such as
the neighbourhood of great seas or forests. The subjoined table,
therefore, which shows the height of the curve of congelation in
different latitudes, is founded upon the known law of the decrease of
heat by elevation, and must be regarded rather as approximatively
correct than strictly accurate.


       TABLE OF SNOW-LINE.
  -------------------------------------
  |           |              |        |
  |           | MEAN         | HEIGHT |
  |LATITUDE.  | TEMPERATURE  | OF THE |
  |           | AT THE LEVEL | SNOW-  |
  |           | OF THE SEA.  | LINE.  |
  |           |              |        |
  -------------------------------------
  |           | Degrees               |
  |           | Centrigrade.          |
  |           |       | Degrees       |
  |           |       | Fahrenheit.   |
  |           |       |      | Feet.  |
  |           |       |      |        |
  |  0        | 29·00 | 84·2 | 15,207 |
  |  1        | 28·99 | 84·2 | 15,203 |
  |  2        | 28·96 | 84·1 | 15,189 |
  |  4        | 28·86 | 83·9 | 15,135 |
  |  5        | 28·78 | 83·8 | 15,095 |
  |  6        | 28·68 | 83·6 | 15,047 |
  |  7        | 28·57 | 83·4 | 14,989 |
  |  8        | 28·44 | 83·2 | 14,923 |
  |  9        | 28·29 | 82·9 | 14,848 |
  | 10        | 28·13 | 82·6 | 14,764 |
  | 15        | 27·06 | 80·7 | 14,220 |
  | 20        | 25·61 | 78·1 | 13,478 |
  | 25        | 23·82 | 74·9 | 12,557 |
  | 30        | 21·75 | 71·1 | 11.484 |
  | 35        | 19·46 | 67·0 | 10,287 |
  | 40        | 17·02 | 62·6 |  9,001 |
  | 45        | 14·50 | 58·1 |  7,671 |
  | 50        | 11·98 | 53·6 |  6,334 |
  | 51½[195]  | 11·24 | 52·3 |  5,950 |
  | 54        | 10·02 | 50·0 |  5,290 |
  | 55        |  9·54 | 49·2 |  5,034 |
  | 56        |  9·07 | 48·3 |  4,782 |
  | 57        |  8·60 | 47·5 |  4,534 |
  | 58        |  8·14 | 46·6 |  4,291 |
  | 60        |  7·25 | 45·0 |  3,818 |
  | 65        |  5·18 | 41·3 |  2,722 |
  | 70        |  3·39 | 38·1 |  1,778 |
  | 75        |  1·94 | 35·5 |  1,016 |
  | 80        |   ·87 | 33·6 |    457 |
  | 85        |   ·22 | 32·4 |    117 |
  | 86        |   ·14 | 32·3 |     76 |
  | 87        |   ·08 | 32·2 |     44 |
  | 88        |   ·04 | 32·1 |     20 |
  | 89        |   ·01 | 32·0 |      5 |
  | 90        |   ·00 | 32·0 |      0 |
  |           |       |      |        |
  -------------------------------------

That the foregoing table needs considerable modification in particular
localities is evident from the following facts:--In the Scandinavian
Alps, lat. 65° north, the snow-line occurs at an elevation of 5200 feet,
instead of 2722; in the Alps of Savoy, lat. 45° north, it is found at
7650 feet, which is nearly that of the table. On the southern slope of
the Himalayas the traveller ascends to an elevation of upwards of 15,000
feet before he enters the realms of snow and ice, and on the northern
slope to 12,750 feet. Finally, in the Andes of Bolivia, according to
Pentland, the curve of congelation lies between 14,400 and 14,800 feet.

Thus, then, in the mid Torrid Zone, we must accomplish a weary ascent of
13,000 to 15,000 feet before we can find ourselves transported from the
calcined plains whose sands scorch and blister our feet, or the dense
forests whose innermost depths teem with the most exuberant and
beautiful floral life, to the heart of icy deserts and the sublime
silence of the mountains. And in passing from one to the other of these
extremes, we traverse in a few hours all the climates which succeed one
another from the Equator to the Pole. Nevertheless, I must point out an
important difference between the Polar deserts and the snowy regions of
the mountains, which is wholly to the advantage of the former.

I have already shown that, under the highest latitudes, men find, in the
exceptional activity of their functions of nutrition, and, above all, of
respiration, a powerful re-agent against the intensity of the external
cold. This resource fails him on the mountain summit. In vain will he
attempt, as a succedaneum against the cold, to modify his ordinary
regimen, to drink warm blood, to eat fat and raw flesh; his stomach will
reject such aliment, or digest it only with difficulty, and he will not
suffer less from the extreme rigour of the temperature. At the Pole air
pours freely into our lungs, and its pressure stoutly maintains the
equilibrium of the fluids of our body. Such is not the case when we
soar, Icarus like, into the higher regions of the atmosphere; in
proportion as we ascend, the air rarefies, and its pressure diminishes.
Consequently, respiration becomes difficult and painful; the quantity of
oxygen designed to cherish animal heat by the combustion of the carbon
and hydrogen of the blood becomes insufficient; at the same time, the
tissues and the liquids which they enclose expand; perspiration, instead
of diminishing, experiences a relative augmentation; if the atmospheric
pressure is much too weak, the blood extravasates, and forces itself out
through the nose, the ears, and the pores of the skin. In a word, that
peculiar malady which has been named the _mal des montagnes_, and which
is not always unattended with danger, attacks the hardiest traveller,
and compels him with all speed to return to lower and securer levels.

When, therefore, we speak of "the pure and living air" of the mountains,
of the vigour and health of their inhabitants--even as the poet says--

    "An iron race the mountain-cliffs maintain"--

we are really to understand those lofty hills which are decorated in
some places with the name of mountains, or the table-lands that form the
first steps of the great chains. Such, indeed, are the only inhabited
and inhabitable mountains. There only is the cultivation of a few plants
still possible; there only can the wild beasts find an asylum in wood or
forest, and the cattle green fields of pasture; there may man plant his
feet, build his dwellings, devote himself to rearing his herds, to the
chase, or to more sedentary industries. Let us remember, moreover, that
the salubrity of the air of elevated districts has been greatly
exaggerated, and that if we meet with many mountaineers agile, robust,
and intelligent, we also meet with a great number affected by organic
diseases either wholly unknown or very rare in the plains, such as
goître, scrofula, and cretinism.

The structure of the mountains, their form, and the nature of their
soil, suffice, even without these meteorological conditions I have just
indicated, to render them impracticable as the dwelling-place of man and
of most animals. To ascend them is almost always an enterprise of the
most hazardous, frequently of the most perilous character. To climb the
lofty peaks of the Himalaya, to scale the majestic brow of Chimborazo,
to ascend the frozen sides of the Jungfrau or Mont Blanc, is an
achievement of which the boldest boast, as if they had won a Waterloo or
an Inkermann! Only a keen longing after that notoriety which for some
minds fills the place of renown, or a passion for dangerous enterprise
such as stimulates the pioneer or the explorer, or a powerful scientific
and artistic interest, can impel the Alpine adventurer--can instigate a
Saussure, a Forbes, a Pentland, or a Tyndall, to mount the scarped
ramparts of primeval rocks, to tread warily along precipices which the
chamois can scarcely traverse, to escalade the savage cliffs and frozen
pinnacles, and to breathe

    "The difficult air of the iced mountain-tops."

The annals of mountaineering are illuminated with many stirring stories
of human endurance, patience, and heroism; but, alas! the page is too
often robed in black, and too frequently records the death of some
unhappy explorer!

It is no part of my plan to trace the geological history of mountains.
We know that their formation has been attributed, according to a
satisfactory theory, to the upheavals and expansions of the igneous
matter which, in the primitive ages, boiled under the solid crust
produced by the superficial solidification of our planet, and whose
ebullition, though considerably decreased, even in our own days is
frequently made known in volcanic phenomena and earthquakes. At divers
epochs the crust of the globe will have been rent and dislocated, giving
vent to floods of fused mineral matter; these, solidifying in their
turn, will have produced those inequalities of the earth's surface which
we call mountains; enormous inequalities, as they appear to us;
mole-hills or grains of sand if we compare them with the volume of the
terrestrial sphere.

The distribution of the mountains over the surface of the continents and
islands, and the forms which they have assumed, seem, at the first
glance, altogether capricious and irregular. Yet an attentive study
speedily demonstrates that some higher law than that of chance presided
at the violent and tumultuous production of these majestic masses. Thus,
in the first place, it is evident that every mountain not a volcano
connects itself of necessity to other mountains, and forms a _chain_ of
greater or less length, which departs a little from the straight line,
or rather from the arc of the great circle. The principal chains throw
out branches, and by _mountain knots_, as they are called, unite with
other secondary chains--the whole composing a _mountain system_; but the
apparent irregularities of these systems may always be referred to one
common direction.

If from the disposition of mountains we pass to their distribution, we
perceive that all chains which have sprung from the same geological
convulsion are always distinctly parallel, and the successive chains
distinctly perpendicular among themselves; so that the age of a chain is
known by its direction. Nor is there anything to astonish us in this
species of symmetry, when we recollect that every substance previously
liquefied or diluted by heat, and which, while cooling, becomes
contracted by the closer compression of its atoms, splits with a certain
degree of regularity, generally following lines which intersect each
other at right angles. And it is through the crevices of the cooled
terrestrial crust that these fused matters have escaped, according to
the hypothesis generally admitted by geologists, which, by solidifying
in their turn, have created the mountains. I can only indicate these
considerations to the reader; their development would beguile us too far
from our prescribed path.

If we direct our attention now to the configuration of mountains, we
shall see that this configuration depends essentially on the nature of
the rocks which constitute them. Granite, for example, is one of those
which offers the most varied outlines, as the reader may see without
quitting the United Kingdom, in the rugged, fantastic, broken masses of
the Argyllshire Highlands, that hem in the waters of Loch Goil and Loch
Long. Granite abounds in the tropical zone, and seems to prefer chains
of moderate elevation. Granite heights are generally distinguished by
abrupt and polished flanks, pointed or dentelated summits, scarped
approaches, deeply fissured slopes, and narrow, wild, and profound
valleys.

Gneiss, a felspathic and micaceous rock, of schistous structure, is
found in layers sometimes horizontal or gently inclined, sometimes
undulating and complicated towards the border. The contours of the
gneiss mountains are less cloven than those of mountains of granite;
but numerous fissures and indentations are still discoverable.

[Illustration: THE ORGAN MOUNTAINS OF RIO JANEIRO.]

Porphyry generally occurs in isolated peaks, with almost vertical
flanks; seldom in continuous chains. Porphyritic mountains, says M.
Maury, imprint on the landscape a peculiarly picturesque character. This
rock sometimes appears under the form of tall pillars set in close
juxtaposition--it is then known as _columnar porphyry_; and to groups of
these columns have been given in some countries the name of _Orgues_ or
_Organs_, on account of their resemblance to the organ pipes which
discourse solemn music in our cathedrals.

Thus: in Mexico two mountains occur distinguished by this appellation,
_Los Organos_; one is that of Mamanchota, situated to the north of the
Indian village of Actapan. The portion soaring out of the rock, says
Humboldt, is three hundred feet in height; but the absolute elevation of
the summit of the mountain, at the point where the Organos begin to
shoot aloft, is 1385 toises (about 5310 feet). The other is the Jacal,
which is nearly 9600 feet above the sea-level, and crowned with forests
of pine and cedar.

But the most celebrated Organ Mountains are those which rear their
glittering shafts at the extremity of the bay of Rio Janiero. "It is not
only the aspect of these pointed summits," says Dr. Yvan, "that reminds
the spectator of the sublime instrument of our churches; the strange
sounds which escape from between these cylinders of rock render the
analogy still more striking, and complete the illusion. The voice of the
tempest, the lamentations of the forests bowed by the passing winds, the
doleful wails of the jaguars, the cries of the howling monkeys passing
between these sonorous peaks, produce a harmony before which all human
instrumentation loses its grandeur. We feel that it is the universal
soul which inspires the chords of the majestic keys. The _Serra dos
Organos_ is clothed in virgin forest over three-fourths of its extent;
it is only at long intervals, and in obscure valleys, that we encounter
any traces of human industry, or that we traverse some circular treeless
hollows, in which an abundant herbage flourishes, and feeds the troops
of horses and oxen enclosed in these natural parks."

The _Organ Mountains_ of Epailly (in the department of the Haute Loire,
in France) and of Bart (in the Corrèze), and the _Colonnades_ of
Chenavari (in the Ardèche), belong to the basaltic formation, rendered
so remarkable by its frequent arrangement in prismatic columns of
extreme regularity. Basalt also gives birth to chains which resemble
vast walls, and sometimes appears in the form of pyramids, plateaux, or
simple mamelons.

Of the columnar arrangement the Palisades, on the banks of the river
Hudson, may be particularized as a noble example; but a still grander
spectacle is presented on the river Columbia, west of the Rocky
Mountains, where the waters pour through a valley walled on either side
with tier upon tier of pillars, to the height of fully a thousand feet.

The Trachytes, massive rocks of excessive roughness, occasionally appear
in the shape of cones, at times in that of domes or enormous balloons,
and at times as cupolas with spire-like points, like minarets. The
chalks, the sandstones, the diorites, have all their characteristic
aspect, and give to the mountains where they dominate, and to the
landscapes which surround them, an easily recognizable physiognomy. And,
finally, everybody knows the particular configuration affected by the
volcanic mountains.

The great mountain-chains are unequally distributed in different parts
of the world, and their disposition varies in a remarkable manner in the
two great continents. For the most part it agrees with the direction of
the principal land masses in each. Thus, in the Old World, the chief
ranges assume an easterly and westerly course, following the parallels
of latitude; in the New, a northerly and southerly direction, like that
of the meridians of longitude.

In Europe, the mountains are numerous, but generally of very moderate
elevation. In the north, we find the _Scandinavian Alps_, covering
nearly the whole of Norway and some part of Sweden. From the Naze, or
Cape Lindesnaes, they roll far away, like foam-crested billows, to the
very shore of the Frozen Sea. The central and highest part of the mass,
between latitude 62° and 63°, is called the Dover-feld; the more
northerly portion, the Koelin Mountains; the more southerly, Lang-feld
and Hardanger-feld. Their summits are comparatively flat--felds, or
fields, as the name indicates; on the eastern side they slope gradually
to the plains bordering the Gulf of Bothnia, their sides clothed with
dense forests of pine and fir; on the west they rise abruptly from the
margin of the ocean, and their steep, barren, and swarthy flanks are
broken up by numerous inlets, or _fiords_, where the waters lie cradled
in gloom and desolation. Their highest point is now known to be
Skags-tol-tind, in the Lang-feld range, upwards of 8000 feet. All the
loftier summits rise above the snow-line, and wear night and day,
winter and summer, a shroud of frost and snow. The glaciers are often of
great magnificence, and equal, if they do not transcend in sublimity,
those of the Alps of Switzerland and Savoy.

The _Mountains of Scotland_ seldom exceed 3500 feet in height; the
principal summits, however, Ben Mac-Dhui, and Ben Nevis, are
respectively, 4390 and 4368 feet. Ben Lawers, on the west side of Loch
Tay, reaches 3984 feet; Ben More, in the south-west of Perthshire, 3818
feet; and Schehallion, 3514 feet. Ben Lomond, east of the famous lake of
that name, has an altitude of 3191 feet. The characteristics of the
Scotch mountains are their barren sides, only relieved by patches of
purple heather; their originally fantastic and broken outlines; their
deep, narrow, savage glens, which are often of the gloomiest and most
desolate aspect; and their still deep tarns, or lakes, mirroring each
lofty height in their clear and glassy surface.

The most important of the European systems is that of the _Alps_, whose
majestic and glorious landscapes have been for ages the admiration of
the poet and the artist. They begin, on the west, near the head of the
Gulf of Savoy; sweep round the upper portion of Italy, as if to shut out
that historic peninsula from the European mainland; bend to the
south-east to approach the Adriatic; and throw out a spur, or
prolongation, along the eastern shore of that sea, and parallel with it.
That portion of the system which borders the Mediterranean is
distinguished as the Maritime Alps; between Italy on the one side, and
France and Savoy on the other, lie the Cottian and Graian Alps; from
Mont Blanc to Monte Rosa stretch the Pennine Alps; further to the
eastward extend the Lepontine, Rhetian, and Noric Alps; and
south-easterly, the Carnic, the Julian, and the Dinaric Alps. The
Bernese Alps form the northern barrier of the Valley of the Rhone; their
direction is parallel to that of the Pennine.[196]

The principal Alpine summits are:--Mont Blanc, the "monarch of
mountains," 15,750 feet; Monte Rosa, 15,150 feet; Finster-Aarhorn,
14,109; the Jungfrau, 13,716; and the Ortler Spits, 12,852 feet. The
scenery of the Alps is always of the grandest character; its more
remarkable features being its huge glaciers, or ice-rivers, with their
brilliant and ever-changing hues.

    "Motionless torrents! silent cataracts!
     Who made you glorious as the gates of heaven
     Beneath the keen full moon? Who bade the sun
     Clothe you with rainbows? Who, with living flowers
     Of loveliest blue, spread garlands at your feet."[197]

It is supposed that there are at least four hundred of the great
glaciers, varying from three to thirty miles in length, from a hundred
to six or seven hundred feet in thickness, and from a few yards to a
couple of miles in breadth. The total superficial area of the glaciers
in Switzerland, Savoy, Piedmont, and the Tyrol, has been estimated at
1400 square miles.

The _Apennines_ must be considered a subsidiary portion of the Alps,
rather than as an independent system. They branch off from the Maritime
Alps, and traverse the entire length of Italy. Several peaks rise to an
elevation of between 7000 and 8000 feet; but the average height scarcely
exceeds 3000 feet. Monte Coma, the culminating point, is 9523 feet.

The south of Italy is occupied by a remarkable volcanic region, where
the subterranean fires still give awful signs of their intense activity.
_Mount Vesuvius_, which raises its conical mass, girdled with vines and
chestnuts, above the fair city of Naples, is 3978 feet above the
sea-level. Its sister volcano, _Mount Etna_, in the island of Sicily,
attains a far loftier elevation (10,872 feet),[198] and exhibits a
charming variety of picturesque scenery. The forest region on the lower
slopes is rich in glowing effects of colour, while near the summit the
landscapes wear a grander aspect. Mr. Matthew Arnold has painted an
Etnean picture with marvellous force in the following beautiful
passage.[199]

                            "'Tis the last
    Of all the woody, high, well watered dells
    On Etna; and the beam
    Of noon is broken there by chestnut boughs
    Down its steep verdant sides; the air
    Is freshened by the leaping stream, which throws
    Eternal showers of spray on the mossed roots
    Of trees, and vines of turf, and long dark shoots
    Of ivy-plants, and fragrant hanging bells
    Of hyacinths, and on late anemones,
    That muffle its wet banks; but glade,
    And stream, and sward, and chestnut trees,
    End here; Etna beyond, in the broad glare
    Of the hot noon, without a shade,
    Slope behind slope, up to the peak, lies bare;
    The peak, round which the white clouds play."

       *       *       *       *       *

Between France and Spain lies the great system of the _Pyrenees_, whose
topmost peaks exceed 11,000 feet in altitude. Their entire breadth
averages between forty and fifty miles; the southern slope is
exceedingly rugged and abrupt, and the passes or defiles exhibit a
character of exceeding savageness. The two loftiest crests are Mount
Maladetta, 11,426 feet, and Mont Perdu, 11,275 feet. The interior of
Spain consists of an elevated table-land, bordered by the wild
mountain-ranges of the _Sierra Nevada_ and the _Sierra Morena_. The
average height of the snowy chain of the Nevada is 6000 feet, but the
Peak of Mulharen soars to the noble elevation of 11,678 feet.

In France, we meet with the chains of the _Cevennes_ and the _Vosges_,
the former extending along the right bank of the Rhone, with an average
altitude of 3000 feet; the latter stretching from north to south along
the right bank of the Rhine. The vine-clad slopes of the latter offer
many a romantic picture to the wayfarer in Rhineland. Very curious in
geological interest are the extinct volcanic mountains of Auvergne; so
black, charred, scathed, and desolate, that one might suppose them to
have been the scene of some old-world battle between the Titans and the
Olympian gods. Here the Puy de Sancy exceeds 6000 feet (6215), and the
now silent cone of the Puy de Dôme, 4500 feet in height.

The _Hungarian Mountains_, or Mountains of Germany, occupy the country
between the Rhine and the eighteenth meridian of east longitude. Here we
meet with the dark and densely wooded crests of the Schwarz Wald, or
Black Forest; the Erz-Gebirge, on the borders of Saxony and Bohemia; and
the rich metalliferous masses of the legend-haunted Harz. Continuing our
survey to the eastward, our glances rest on the bold and many-peaked
groups of the _Carpathians_, which, commencing near the sources of the
Oder and the Vistula, describe a semicircle round the fertile Hungarian
plain for between seven and eight hundred miles. Striking down to the
Danube, it faces on the opposite side the lofty wall of the Balkan, and
through the gorge thus formed, the famous "Iron Gates" of ancient story,
the river rolls its waters with impetuous rapidity. The more elevated
summits of the Carpathians possess an average height of 5000 feet, but
Mount Lomnitz reaches the loftier level of 7962 feet.

On the borders of Asia lies the long and narrow chain, or rather chains,
of the _Ural Mountains_, with an average altitude of from 2000 to 2500
feet, sinking in about latitude 57° to a rocky ridge of little more than
1100 feet. The loftiest crest is Mount Yaman, in latitude 54° 13', 5387
feet. The Ural Mountains possess abundant mineral treasures, both gold
and platinum occurring in extensive abundance.

The chain of _Mount Caucasus_ stretches for about 700 miles between the
Black and Caspian Seas, in the direction of north-west and south-east.
It exceeds 150 miles in breadth, throwing out from the central mass
numerous branches and parallel ridges, and enclosing a network of
valleys, plains, and ravines. The culminating point appears to be the
group or mountain-knot of Elburz, in the meridian of 42° 25' E., which
attains the stupendous elevation of 18,493 feet. Kasbek, which is really
in Asia, reaches 16,500 feet.

In the Asiatic continent the grandest mountain-system is that of the
_Himalayas_ (or "Snowy Mountains"), which limit the Thibetan table-land
on the south, and divide it from the hot plains of northern India. They
extend in an east and west direction for about 1500 miles, with a
breadth of from 200 to 250; and consist of a number of parallel ranges,
divided by transverse valleys, and rising one above another like a
series of gigantic terraces. The slopes are clothed with an exceedingly
rich and beautiful flora, and far up to the very snow-line extend
magnificent breadths of forest foliage.[200] On the southern slope this
snow-line is about 15,000 feet high; on the northern, 18,000 feet. The
loftiest summit of the Himalayas, and probably the very apex of our
globe, is _Mount Everest_ (latitude 27° 59'), 29,002 feet in altitude.
_Kunchin-jinga_ is 28,156 feet; _Dhawalgiri_, 28,000 feet; and
_Javaher_, 25,746 feet above the ocean-level.

"As we ascend the exterior face of these mountains,"[201] says Captain
Strachey, "tropical vegetation prevails to a height of about 4000 feet,
though even from 3000 feet a few of the forms of colder climates begin
to appear; the vegetation, however, is, on the whole, scanty on this
declivity. Far different is it when we follow the same zone of elevation
into the interior of the mountains, along the courses of the larger
rivers, which, owing to the great depths of their valleys, carry a
tropical flora into the very heart of the mountain region. The sheltered
and confined beds of these rivers, where the two great requisites for
tropical vegetation, heat and humidity, are at their maximum, often
afford the finest specimens of forest scenery, varied by an admixture of
the temperate forms of vegetable life, which here descend to their
lowest level. Thus the traveller's eye may rest on palms and acacias
intermingled with pines; on oaks or maples covered with epiphytal
orchideæ; while pothos and clematis, bamboos and ivy, fill up the
strangely contrasted picture.

"Above 4000 feet oaks and rhododendrons greatly increase in number, and
these trees, with andromeda (_Pieris_), form the great mass of the
forest from 6000 to 8000 feet. Species of the deciduous trees of the
temperate zone are gradually introduced as we rise, and these again,
with the addition of other pines, prevail in the upper regions of
forest--that is, from 8000 to 11,500 feet."

[Illustration: THE HIMALAYAS--MOUNT GAURISANKAR (28,000 FEET).]

Glaciers abound in the loftier Himalayas. The lowest elevation to which
they descend is about 11,500 feet above the level of the sea.

The _Altai Mountains_ lie north of Mongolia, with an average elevation
of from 5000 to 7000 feet. Eternal snow crowns their loftiest summit,
Mount Bielukha, 11,063 feet. In Central Asia we find the chains of the
_Thian-shan_, partly volcanic, and the _Kuen-lun_, which are little
known, but probably lift their towering heads to an altitude of fully
20,000 feet. China is traversed from west to east by two
mountain-ranges, the Pe-ling and Nan-ling, or "Northern" and "Southern,"
which prolong their rocky heights to the very shores of the Pacific.
West of the table-land of Pamer the eye rests upon the formidable chain
of the _Beloor-tagh_, from 18,000 to 20,000 feet in elevation; and on
the borders of Central Asia the Himalaya, the Beloor-tagh and other
chains unite in the colossal knot or group of the _Hindoo-Koosh_.
Thence, with a westerly course, extend the _Paropamisan_ and _Caspian
Mountains_, the latter culminating in Mount Demavend, 14,300 feet, near
the Caspian Sea. The _Soleiman Mountains_ border on the rugged plateau
of Afghanistan; in Armenia rises the fable-haunted crest of Agri-dagh,
or _Mount Ararat_, 17,260 feet; while, in Asia Minor, the Taurus chain,
which so often beheld the banners and glancing spears of the Romans,
attains its loftiest in _Mount Argæus_, or Arjish-dagh, 13,100 feet; and
along the coast of Syria rolls the undulating range of _Lebanon_, with
Mount Hermon soaring to 9600 feet. Arabia is occupied by a branch of the
Lebanon, which runs southward into the Sinaitic peninsula. The highest
of the Sinai Mountains is 9300 feet above the sea.

The average altitude of the _Ghauts_, which line the east and west
coasts of Hindostan, is 3000 feet; but some of their summits aspire to
8000 feet.

A range of high mountains traverses the dreary peninsula of Kamtschatka,
and appears to be a continuation of the volcanic chain which forms the
Kurile Islands, and extends even to Japan and the great islands of the
Eastern Archipelago. Many of the Kamtschatkan volcanoes are still
active, such as Avatsha, Kluchevsky, and Assachnish, and though shrouded
in snow and ice project from their seething caldrons vast showers of
ashes, stones, boiling water, and lava. Avatsha is 9600 feet high.

The Indian islands contain many colossal mountains, mostly, if not all,
of a volcanic character, and the same generalization is true of the
beautiful Polynesian archipelagos:--

    "Summer-isles of Eden lying in dark purple spheres of sea."

Mount Ophir, in Sumatra, is 13,840 feet high; Stamat, in Java, 12,300
feet; Indiapura, in Sumatra, 12,140 feet; Tomboro, in the island of
Sumbawa, 7600 feet; and Kilauea, in the Sandwich Islands, 3970 feet.
Kina-balu, in Borneo, is a magnificent mass, 13,968 feet in height. "Its
grand precipices," says a traveller,[202] "its polished granite surfaces
glittering under the bright tropical rays, the dashing cascades, which
fall from so great a height as to dissolve in spray before being lost in
the dark valleys below, have a magical effect upon the imagination."

       *       *       *       *       *

My rapid survey of the mountain-systems of the globe now brings both
writer and reader to the African Continent, which contains, however, an
unusually large proportion of plain and low level. The northern
mountain-ranges, which extend from east to west parallel to the
Mediterranean, are known to geographers under the general appellation of
_Mount Atlas_, whose culminating point occurs in the peak of Miltoin,
11,400 feet, to the south-east of the city of Morocco.

In the north-eastern part of the continent lie the _Mountains of
Abyssinia_, the highest pinnacle being that of Geesh, which towers at an
elevation of 15,000 feet above the sea. Many other summits are also
crowned with "snows eternal," feeding a succession of streams which pour
their waters into the White Nile.

Detached masses and mountain-groups spread along the western coast,
between the 12th and 18th parallels of north and south latitude
respectively. To the north of the Equator lie the _Kong Mountains_; and
near the coast of the Bight of Biafra rises the semi-extinct volcano of
the _Camaroons_, 13,129 feet high. This elevation is far exceeded by
that of the colossal summits, which on the eastern coast are situated
within a few degrees of the equinoctial line, and wear a crown of snow
which is indissoluble. One of these, _Kilimandjaro_, has an altitude of
22,814 feet, while _Kenia_ cannot be less than 20,000 feet. Others are
probably equal, or little inferior, to these in height.

In South Africa are three ranges of mountains, or rather terraces, the
northernmost of which is called the _Nieuweld_, and runs in a general
course of east and west. Towards its eastern extremity it bears the name
of the _Sneeaberg_, or Snowy Mountain, and its summits are frequently
1000 feet high. The _Compassberg_ group is 7000 feet in elevation.
Immediately to the south of Cape Town rises the curious flat-topped
_Table Mountain_, 3582 feet in height. The _Peak of Teneriffe_, in the
Canary Isles, off the north-west coast, is volcanic; it rises 12,236
feet above the sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

Asia possesses, as we have seen, the loftiest mountain-peaks, but it is
on the American continent we meet with the grandest mountain-systems. We
remark, in the first place, that they are all directed from north to
south; in the second, that they are grouped along the western and
eastern coasts in two unequal systems, converging towards each other as
they run southward. In North America these two systems are the _Rocky
Mountains_ on the west; and the _Apalachian_, or _Alleghany_, on the
east. The former consists of a mountain-region, diversified with
valleys, terraces, and plateaus, varying in breadth from 40 to 100
miles, and raising several summits to a very conspicuous elevation, as
in Mount Brown, 15,900 feet, and the volcanic peak of Mount Elias, in
California, 17,500 feet.

The _Apalachian_ range extends from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the
parallel of 34°, a course of 1500 miles. It is intersected by Lake
Champlain and the valley of the Hudson. Its average height does not
exceed 3000 feet; but it culminates in Mount Washington to an altitude
of 6234 feet.

In South America the chain of the Rocky Mountains is prolonged in the
magnificent system of the _Cordilleras de los Andes_, or the Andes,
which commences immediately to the southward of the Isthmus of Panama,
extends along the whole stretch of the western coast, and finally
terminates in the rocky archipelago of Tierra del Fuego. This chain is
locally distinguished into the Columbian, Peruvian, Bolivian, Chilian,
and Patagonian Andes. Its widest extension occurs between the 20th and
25th parallels, where it measures upwards of 400 miles across.
Throughout its entire course it attains a very considerable elevation.
Its volcanic character is very marked. Thus, in the Columbian Andes,
_Antisana_ and _Cotopaxi_ are still active; in the Chilian, _Aconcagua_
is the loftiest volcano on the globe; in the Patagonian, four active
volcanoes occur. The region at the base of the Chilian Andes suffers
more from volcanic convulsion than any other part of the world, and its
towns are repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes.

The principal summits are:--Aconcagua, 23,944 feet; Chimborazo, 21,415
feet; Sahama, 22,350 feet; Cotopaxi, 18,867; Antisana, 19,136 feet;
Sorata, 21,286 feet; and Illimanni, 21,149 feet.

On the eastern coast we meet with the Mountains of Guiana and the
Mountains of Brazil, never reaching a higher level than 5000 feet.
_Mount Sarmiento_, in Tierra del Fuego, is 6900 feet above the sea. In
the West Indies the loftiest point is found in the _Blue Mountains_ of
Jamaica, 7278 feet.



CHAPTER V.

VEGETABLE LIFE AND ANIMAL LIFE IN THE MOUNTAINS.


The same changes that we observe in the characters of vegetable life as
we advance towards the Pole reproduce themselves, the reader will easily
understand, as we ascend the mountain-sides. Only, in the former case
the gradation is slow and scarcely perceptible; in the latter, it
displays itself rapidly; in such wise that a distance of a few hundred
yards in height is equivalent to a journey of several degrees in
latitude. It is scarcely necessary to add that the warmer the climate,
the higher we must rise to reach the belt or zone where flourish the
species peculiar to Arctic countries.

In every land the flora of the lowest region of the mountains is
virtually the same as that of the adjacent plains, and it is only at an
elevation of 300 feet that we discern a positive change of aspect. In
temperate Europe, the Normandy fir and the _Epicea_ begin to form, at
that altitude, forests of considerable extent. These trees are from 120
to 150 feet in height, with a pyramidal configuration, sombre foliage,
and drooping boughs, and whose bark takes to itself a clothing of
various lichens (notably _Usneas_), the long filaments, branchy and
yellowish, clinging to the branches of the most aged individuals. In the
shadow of these resinous trees thrive the honeysuckle, the rose, the
wild raspberry. At the base of the senile trunks are developed the
crawling or climbing stems, ever verdurous, of various lycopodiums. In
rocky localities the great yellow gentian unfolds its long spikes of
golden flowers, in company with the elegant martagon, whose
yellow-spotted red corollas are rolled up turban-wise. At a higher
level, between 4500 and 6000 feet, the cembro pine, rare enough in
France and England, more common in the mountains of Central Europe, and
the larch, whose leaves fall every winter, are the last representatives
of the true arborescent Flora.

[Illustration: 1. Fir, with bearded Usnea. 2. Great Yellow Gentian. 3.
Martagon, or Turk's Cap Lily.]

Still continuing our ascent, we meet now with nothing but an herbaceous
vegetation. Here and there only, in turfy places and abrupt ravines, a
few birches and some dwarf willows display themselves, scarcely taller
than the herbs which surround them. It is in the rocky hollows also that
the oleanders or ferruginous rhododendrons vegetate, sole
representatives in Europe of a genus which among the Asiatic mountains
numbers several species. The Flora of the Alpine prairies is, moreover,
extremely varied. The Gramineæ dominate therein, but associated with
other families which enamel with the most brilliant colours the bright
green carpet of those cold regions; the bright yellow or orange of the
Compositæ; the blue of the Phyteumas, of the Larkspurs, and the
Campanulas; the rose of the Carnations and the Centaureas; the intense
purple of the Ranunculuses (_Nigritellæ_). In the most arid localities
we admire the azure flowers of the little Gentianellas and the white
blossoms of the Saxifrages; their presence, under such conditions,
filling our souls with wonder, and stimulating our hearts to praise
their divine Creator.

    "And with childlike, credulous affection,
       We behold their tender buds expand--
     Emblems of our own great resurrection,
       Emblems of the bright and better land."[203]

Some of the plants which enrich the lofty slopes of the European
mountains are endowed with an agreeable aromatic odour, and with keen
stimulating properties. Such are the _Artemisias_ and the _Achilleæ_. To
the former of these families belongs the _Artemisia glacialis_, which
the mountaineers consider an universal panacea, and which enters into
the composition of the famous liqueur of the Chartreux.

On the threshold of the eternal snows, under the influence of the icy
breezes, vegetation grows rarer and yet rarer, until it is reduced to a
few species which compensate for their insignificance by their beauty.
Such are the Campanula of Allioni, with its graceful bells of blue; the
delicate Saxifraga, whose rosy flowers also expose their beauties on the
frost-bound shores of Spitzbergen; the Soldanella of the Alps; the
Ranunculus of the Glaciers; numerous Androsellæ, some of which do not
exceed a third of an inch in height; finally, on the extreme border, and
straggling even on the moraines of the Glaciers, where no other plant
can live, the little Myosotis, which grows in small tufts covered with
white down, and starred with delicate blue flowers. At a still higher
level we find only a few lichens relieving the monotonous surface of the
rocks; and sometimes, flourishing under unknown circumstances, the
_Protococcus nivalis_, whose red globules communicate to the snow a
blood-red tint.

The Mountain Flora will offer us, in other parts of the globe, the same
series of diminution, commencing with the groups which people the low
lands of each geographical zone, and terminating with those which, at
the level of the sea, are met with only in the Frozen Zone. Some
mountain-chains, however, possess genera or species exclusively
belonging to them. It is on the ridges of Atlas and Lebanon, at an
elevation of 3500 or 5400 feet, that the majestic cedars spread their
umbrageous branches. The cedars of Atlas attain a stature of 120 to 140
feet, and their trunk measures, at the base, from a yard to a yard and a
half in diameter. "When young," says M. Charles Martins,[204] "they have
a pyramidal form; but when they soar above their neighbours, or above
the rock which protects them, there comes a sudden storm, a flash of
lightning, or an insect pierces their terminal shoot, and deprives them
of their shapely spire; the tree is discrowned; then the branches spread
horizontally in terraces or layers of verdure, one upon another,
screening the sky from the gaze of the traveller, who presses forward in
a sort of twilight under these vaults impenetrable to the solar rays.
From an elevated point of the mountain still more majestic is the
spectacle. The horizontal surfaces resemble lawns of the deepest green,
or of a glaucous colour like that of water, upon which are sprinkled
cones of a violet hue; the eye plunges into an abyss of greenery in
whose depth mutters an invisible torrent."

[Illustration: CEDAR OF LEBANON.]

The cedar of Atlas constitutes, if not a species, at least a distinct
variety from the cedar of Lebanon. The latter is now very rare on the
mountain which is regarded as its native habitat. The prophet Ezekiel
describes it in all its glory: "A cedar with fair branches, and with a
shadowing shroud, and of a high stature ... his height was exalted above
all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his
branches became long, because of the multitude of waters, when he shot
forth" (Ezek. xxxi. 3, 5). But those immense green forests which once
stood out in dark deep shadow against the radiant sky are now reduced to
a single scanty grove--a grove containing, according to Dr. Hooker, but
four hundred trees, and of these four hundred only twelve of the ancient
majestic race. They are situated high up on the western slope of the
mountain-range, two hours south-east from Tripoli, and at an elevation
above the sea-level of 6172 feet. Most of the Lebanon patriarchs are
about 50 feet in height, and of nearly the same girth. One, however,
measures 63 feet in circumference.

The cedar was introduced into England towards the close of the
seventeenth century, and has become permanently naturalized. It is even
found in a flourishing condition as far north as Inverness. It does not,
however, attain such gigantic dimensions here as on the slopes of
Lebanon. There is one at Goodwood, in Sussex, 25 feet in circumference;
and another at Peperharrow, in Surrey, 15 feet. In the Jardin des
Plantes a celebrated tree, whose terminal shoot was struck by a chance
shot during the siege of the Bastile, boasts of the following
proportions:-Ten feet girth at three feet from the ground, and ten feet
and a half on a level with the soil. Its horizontal branches extend
fully forty-five to fifty feet in length, and cover, consequently, a
surface of upwards of 300 feet in circuit.

[Illustration: RHODODENDRONS OF THE HIMALAYA.

1. Rhododendron Pendulum. 2. Rhododendron Dalhousie. 3. Rhododendron
Nivale.]

If we would now pass in review the complete series of Zones of
Vegetation, it is to the north of Hindostan, in the Himalaya, or to
South America and the Cordillera of the Andes, that we must transport
ourselves. On the first steps, or lowest terraces, of these immense
chains, we shall see the tropical Flora revealing all its wealth and
its puissance; there, between 3500 and 6900 feet above the sea-level,
we meet with nearly all the plants peculiar to temperate climes, and
those which only belong to the northern lands. On the Himalayan slopes,
the pine and the cedar flourish at an elevation of 7500 feet. Advancing
from this limit, we soon encounter a great variety of Rhododendrons, a
shrub now well known in our European gardens, and highly prized for its
ever green foliage and rich full bloom. It thrives at the height of
12,000 feet; a few species even battle with the elements at an altitude
of 15,000 feet, but they are then only stunted and crawling plants. With
these are associated, at about 10,000 feet, the alder, the birch, and
the willow. The plains are covered, at the same time, with a prodigious
host of Ranunculaceæ, Compositæ, Saxifrages, and Pinnalaceæ, to which
succeeds all the army of Lichens. Thus, then, it appears that the same
laws determine always and everywhere the orographic distribution of
plants. Only the influence of elevation is counterbalanced here by that
of climate; whence it results that the arborescent species endure at a
far greater height than on our European mountains.

In the same manner that the Himalaya "resumes," so to speak, the Flora
of all the climates of the Old World, does the Cordillera of the Andes,
and, notably, that portion of the chain situated between Peru and
Venezuela, present all the vegetable types of the New World, disposed
upon its plateaux and its slopes as upon a gigantic flight of steps. In
the lower region, the plants of Tropical America, favoured by a marshy
soil, deck themselves out in their most gorgeous attire. At an elevation
of between 1800 and 3500 feet, the vegetation is neither so brilliant
nor so varied, but it has not yet thrown off its original character. We
remark here a constant abundance of Myrtaceæ, Laurenaciæ, and
Bignoniaceæ, as well as numerous epiphytous plants--Orchidaceæ, Ferns,
Bromeliaceæ. From 3500 to 9000 feet we mark the successive appearance of
plants belonging to the colder countries of North America: Escallionæ,
Magnoliaceæ, Vacciniaceæ, and Solanaceæ. Here and there a few
Bromeliaceæ and some other epiphytes display themselves. We encounter
also in this zone a small number of Palmaceæ; among others, the
Ceroxylon and the Diplothenium. But soon the arborescent vegetation
almost wholly disappears, and only a few stunted bushes remain, similar
to those which, in the Alps, succeed the larch. Then come meadows almost
entirely formed of Compositæ, Umbelliferæ, and Saxifrages; and, finally,
the Lichens, the last plants-the last forms of vegetable life--lingering
on the frontiers of the region of eternal snow.

If the law which presides over the orographic distribution of plants
were applicable to the animal kingdom, we should meet on the frozen
crests of the mountains with the same species as, or, at least, with
analogous species to, those we have seen in the vicinity of the Pole.
But it is not so. Plants flourish wherever they can find, with an
endurable climate, a soil in which their roots can develop themselves
and imbibe the juices needful for their support; but the conditions
which render a country inhabitable for animals--I mean the higher
animals more particularly--are wholly different and more complex. A
facility for removing from place to place in search of food is one of
these conditions, and assuredly one of the most essential. But the
number of terrestrial animals capable of climbing the scarped flanks, of
traversing the narrow ridges, and leaping across the precipitous chasms
of the mountains, is extremely limited. However, a few Herbivora excel
in these perilous exercises. They are Ruminants of small size, with tiny
limbs, and small ungulated hoofs; Moufflons, wild Goats, Chamois, Kids,
which seek on inaccessible heights a refuge against the attacks of man
and the Carnaria, and bound, with marvellous agility and precision, from
rock to rock, from icy crag to crag, over the most formidable gulfs, and
up the most precipitous steeps.

The Moufflons, or Wild Sheep, erroneously regarded by some naturalists
as the ancestors of our domestic sheep, form a genus whose species are
distributed in Asia, America, and Northern Africa, and in the
mountainous islands of the Mediterranean. The Musmon Moufflon, which
inhabits the mountains of Corsica, of Sardinia, of Cyprus, and of
Candia, is nearly the size of a sheep, but far more robust. His hair,
which is only wool properly so called, is a reddish-brown over nearly
the whole of his body, and whitish under the belly and the legs. His
horns are of great size, transversely crumpled, with a simple curve, and
a sharp extremity. Among the Asiatic species the largest is the _Masimon
argali_, which inhabits the Altaï and the mountains of Kamtschatka, and
approaches the ass in size. His skin is a yellowish-brown, with some
white on the fore-feet. His horns describe an almost complete circle.
The American species is the _Musimon montanus_, which we find in the
Rocky Mountains. Finally, the region of the Atlas and of the Aurès
Mountains is the country of the Ruffled Moufflon (_Moufflon à
Manchettes_), so named on account of his long hairs, which fall from his
shoulders upon the extremity of his anterior legs. His neck is also
supplied with a thick mane.

[Illustration: MUSK-DEER.]

The Wild Goats and Bouquetins probably form, as the best authorities
represent, but one and the same genus. In any case the latter are much
better known than the former. They closely resemble our domestic goats,
from which they chiefly differ in the prodigious development of their
horns, the said horns being generally knotty, slightly divergent, and
supported by osseous axes. Their name, according to Gervais, comes from
two words, _Bouc-estain_, signifying the Goat of the Rocks. They belong
exclusively to the Old Continent. These animals are very wild. The
precipitousness and lofty elevation of their pasture-grounds render
their chase a matter of peril. The same may be said of the Chamois, or
Isard, which inhabits the loftiest ridges of the Alps, the Pyrenees, and
the mountains of Greece. Dogs are of no avail in hunting these animals.
In Asia the falcon is employed in capturing the bouquetin. In Europe the
chamois-hunters are excellent marksmen--indefatigable, fearless, capable
of great endurance, keen, and vigilant. It is at morn and eve that they
venture forth on their hazardous enterprise. The chamois wander in small
troops. Their voice is a kind of low bleating; but when one of them
descries approaching danger, he immediately raises a sharp cry, which is
the signal of flight. Driven together and closely packed, the poor
animals stand at bay, and dash themselves upon the daring hunter with an
impetuosity which often proves fatal to him.

The Musk-Deer form a distinct family in the order _Ruminantia_. In their
external conformation they resemble both the stag and the antelope, but
they have neither horns nor antlers; their stomach is deficient in the
part named the _feuillet_, which exists in all the other Ruminantia;
finally, their upper jaw is provided with two long canines, which among
the males project from the mouth, and which serve at one and the same
time as defensive arms and as instruments to dig out of the soil the
roots upon which these animals feed. All the species of this genus are
Asiatic, except one, which is a native of Guinea. I can only
particularize here the Musk-Deer of Thibet and Nepaul, which furnishes
commerce with the curious product, so useful in medicine and perfumery,
known as _musk_. This product is an extremely odorous and unctuous
substance, contained in a special organ situated under the belly of the
male. The high price which it commands would make the chase of the
musk-deer very profitable, were not these animals so rare and so
difficult to get at. They lead a solitary life among the scarped rocks
and in the thorny bushes bordering on the glaciers. In winter they
descend towards more temperate localities. They are caught either in
snares or with nooses, or slain with arrows. The Tongusian hunters, to
attract the musk-deer, imitate the cry of their young by applying the
mouth to a fragment of bark. The chase is only pursued in winter and
autumn. In Thibet the hunters require a special license from the
government.

We may pass over the species of Rodents which burrow among the
mountains, with a word of allusion to the traditional companion of the
poor wandering Savoyard, the Alpine Marmot. This gentle and interesting
animal is so well known to my readers that I need not pause to describe
him.

In the deep gorges and dense forests which break up the monotony of the
lofty table-lands, live in fierce solitude the congeners of the "Man in
the White Cloak" of the Polar deserts--Bears with a thick fur and of a
sombre hue. While these animals seem designed by their organization to
feed upon flesh, and while their strength enables them to seize upon the
largest game--which, indeed, they occasionally do--their diet is
omnivorous, and they even exhibit, in general, a marked predilection for
the aliment of a vegetable nature. The reader, moreover, will remember
with what eagerness the bears of our menageries and zoological gardens
devour the bread, cakes, or fruit which their visitors press upon them.
In their native mountain homes they will rather fly from man than attack
him; but if assailed and closely pressed, they defend themselves
bravely, rearing upon their hind-feet, and endeavouring to suffocate
their aggressor with their muscular arms. If caught in their youth they
are easily tamed, and display a greater intelligence than any of the
other carnivora.

The genus _Ursidæ_, or Bears, is wholly wanting in Africa, but has its
representatives in Europe, Asia, and America. The European species are:
the great Brown Bear, formerly distributed over all the mountains and
through all the forests of Western and Northern Europe, and which is
still sufficiently common in the Alps, the Pyrenees, and some wooded
highland districts of Russia; and the Bear of Asturias, found only in
the sierras of the Iberian peninsula. The latter is of smaller
dimensions than the former. His hide is tawny.

Asia possesses: the Syrian Bear and Bear of Lebanon, two varieties of
the same species, distinguished by Horsfield under the name of _Ursus
isabella_, in allusion to the dirty brown colour of his skin; the Boar
of Thibet, which is found in the Himalayan chain and the islands of
Japan--in size and appearance he approximates to our European bear, but
differs in the blacker shades of his hair; the Malay Bear (_Prochilus
Malayanus_), which is jet black, climbs trees with agility, and lives on
a vegetable diet; and the Juggler, or Jungle Bear of India (_Prochilus
ursinus_), originally named the "Five-fingered Sloth,"--a great
favourite with the Indian jugglers on account of his adaptability and
mildness.

[Illustration: 1. Black Bear of Canada. 2. Gray Bear of North America.]

[Illustration: THE CONDOR OF THE ANDES.]

To North America belong the Black Bear (_Ursus Americanus_) and the
Grisly Bear (_Ursus ferox_). The former has a long head, a pointed nose,
small eyes, and short round ears; his limbs are strong, unwieldy, and
thick; his tail is short; feet large; and the hair on the body smooth,
glossy, and black. The Grisly Bear is about nine feet long, a narrow and
flattened muzzle, sunken eyes, and formidable teeth; he ranges over not
only the entire chain of the Rocky Mountains, but in the prairies and
forests which occupy the centre and west of the great continent, where
his sanguinary instincts and prodigious strength render him a formidable
antagonist. The Black Bear of Canada, on the contrary, is the least
ferocious and least carnivorous of his genus. His chief food is of a
vegetable nature--grain, fruits, and roots--but he does not disdain an
occasional regale of pork. He commits great depredations on the
maize-fields, and is also exceedingly partial to honey. From the nature
of his food, his flesh is exceedingly succulent, and much relished by
the Canadian settlers.

Ascend the wildest and most barren mountains, even to the limit where
all life ceases to exist; or the flank of a perpendicular rock, in a
crevasse, in some chink or fissure where the foot of man or quadruped
may never rest; and there, were you able to approach sufficiently near,
you would see some interlaced branches and stems, and within it a few
fragments, a few gnawed and polished bones, while a strong odour scented
the surrounding air. Regard it more attentively--some tiny creatures are
astir upon that unclean couch. Yes: your gaze now rests on the eyry of
one of those aërial tyrants, Eagles or Vultures, which alone can dwell
on the cloud-crowned, wind-swept heights. I must confine myself here to
mentioning the largest and most formidable species, which surpasses all
the others in sweep and speed and power of flight--the Condor of the
Andes. This bird possesses the habits and voracity of other vultures,
and, as if conscious of his enormous strength, shows himself the most
audacious. He frequently pounces upon living animals; but his
non-retractile talons, blunted by their attrition upon the rocks, do not
permit him to carry off his prey; he contents himself with fixing it
against the ground with one of his claws, while he rends it to pieces
with his powerful beak. Gorged with food, he becomes incapable of
flight. You may then approach him; but should you attempt to seize him,
he opposes a desperate resistance, and as he enjoys an extraordinary
tenacity of life, the victory will probably cause you a prolonged
struggle and many cruel wounds.

A story is told of a Chili miner, of more than ordinary physical force,
who attacked--hand-to-hand, as it were--a condor while digesting his
greedy banquet, and unable to make his escape. The engagement was long
and desperate. The man was compelled to put forth all his strength. At
length, exhausted, torn, and bleeding, he left his enemy on the field of
battle, and carried off for a trophy a few feathers, which he showed to
his comrades, affirming that he had never fought a harder fight. The
other miners went in search of the corpse of this terrible bird. They
found him standing erect, and flapping his wings in order to fly away.
They only killed him by crushing in his head with a hatchet.

The condor enjoys the privilege of an exceptional longevity. The Indians
of the Andean plains assert that he lives nearly a hundred years. He
builds no regular nest; the female is satisfied with a hollow in the
rocky cliff of sufficient size to shelter her while hatching her eggs.
Both parents busy themselves very attentively in bringing up their
young, disgorging in their beaks the food which they have themselves
taken. The young birds grow slowly; it is not until they are six weeks
old that they begin to flutter round their parents. Their training,
however, lasts but a few months; after which they separate of their own
accord from the male and female birds, and seek their own nourishment.

The condor has the loftiest flight of all the winged race. He has been
seen towering in the "blue serene," on a level with the snow-crowned
summit of Illimani, 23,000 feet above the sea, in a region where man
cannot endure the excessive rarefaction of the air. When, in the fulness
of time, civilization shall have conquered to itself the South American
continent, the condor, flying for refuge to these brain-wildering
heights among the icy peaks of the Cordillera, shall be, perhaps, in
that quarter of the globe, the latest denizen of the Desert--the last
representative of THE SAVAGE WORLD.



Index.


Abbye-singh, the tiger-killer, 310.

Abyssinia, its physical features, 248;
  flora, 248-50;
  mountains, 596.--See also SHOA, TIGRE.

Abyssinian meadow-grass, 242.

_Acacia detinens_, 257.

_Acacia doratoxylon_, 279.

Acacias, family of, their characteristics, 411.

_Acrostichon grande_, 277.

_Actæas_ described, 261.

_Adansonia digitata_ (the Baobab), 409.

Adour, the, valley of, 27.

Africa, interior of, described, 186, 187;
  southern plateau, 187, 194, 195;
  its general physical features, 187, 188;
  Karroos of Southern Africa, 188, 191.--See CAPE COLONY,
  CENTRAL AFRICA, EQUITORIAL AFRICA, KAFFRARIA,
  KALIHARI, NATAL, SENEGAMBIA.

African elephant, characteristics of, 451.

Agami, the, described, 354.

Agouti, the, described, 342.

Agua, the, described, 363.

Ahu, the, described, 65.

Akhaf, the desert of, 106, 109.

Albert N'yanza, the, discovered by Sir S. Baker, 202.

Alfa, the, described, 150.

Alfourous, the, their manners, 525.

Alleghany Mountains, the, character of, 216.

Alligator, the, its natural history, 357, 358.

_Alligator lucius_, 357.

_Aloe socotrina_, 249.

Aloes, various species of, described, 254.

Alpaca, the, characteristics of, 334, 335.--See HUANACU.

Alpine Squirrel, the, 499.

Alps, the, referred to, 14;
  described, 589, 590.

Alps, the Scandinavian, described, 588.

Altaï Mountains, the, description of, 594.

Amazon, forests of the river, their characteristics, 386, 387.

Amboyna, island of, its species, 421.

America, progressive civilization of, 205, 206;
  Spanish conquests in, 206, 209;
  probable future of, 209;
  character of its fauna, 281-283.--See NORTH AMERICA, SOUTH AMERICA.

_Anastatica hierochuntica_, 149.

Andamanese, the, character of, 525.

Andes, the, description of, 597, 598;
  Condor of, 613, 614;
  vegetation and character of the Pampas of, 228, 229.

Androsellæ, the, described, 601.

Annona (ox-heart), the, described, 246.

Ant-eater, habits of the great, 346, 347.

Anthropomorphic apes, natural history of, 470-487.

_Antilope Dorcas_, the, account of, 169.

Apache Indians, the, described, 335.

Apalachian Mountains, the, features of, 597.

Ape, the, natural history of, 463;
  habitat, 464.--See BABOON, CHIMPANZEE, CYNOCEPHALI,
  CYNOPITHECI, GORILLA, MONKEY, ORANG-OUTANG.

Apennines, the, their character and aspect, 590.

_Apios tuberosa_, 260.

_Aponogeton distachyum_, 256.

Apteryx Australis, its natural history, 377, 378.

_Aquila bifasciata_, 75.

Arabian Deserts, the, description of, 106.

Arabs, the, their origin, 176;
  physique, 176;
  history, 176, 177;
  religion, 177;
  attachment to polygamy, 177;
  love of rapine, 177;
  religious zeal, 178;
  general characteristics, 178, 179;
  household wealth, 178, 180.--See BEDOUINS.

_Aralia crassifolia_, 277.

Ararat, Mount, its physical aspect, 595.

Araucanians, the, their habits and manners, 541.

Arctic discovery, reference to, and account of, 552-555.

Arctic regions, the, described, 548.--See POLAR REGIONS.

_Ardea alba_, 72.--See HERON.

_Areca saccharifera_, 418.

Argæus, Mount, description of, 595.

Ariel Gazelle, the, natural history of, 169.

_Aristida pungens_, 148.

Armadillo, the, natural history of, 345, 346.

Arnee Buffalo, the, description of, 297, 308.

ARNOLD, MATTHEW, quoted, 398, 591.

Aroidaceæ, the, family of, 438.

_Artemisia alba_, 151.

_Artemisia glacialis_, 601.

Artesian wells, 161.

_Artocarpus incisa_, 414.

_Arundo conspicua_, 275.

Asiatic elephant, the, its natural history, 450, 451.

_Asimina triloba_, 259.

Asinus Quagga, the, natural history of, 291, 292.

Ass, the, its habits and peculiarities, 56.

Ass, Wild, the.--See ONAGRA.

_Astelia Banksii_, 276.

Asturias, bear of, described, 609.

Atacania, the Pampas of, 219.

Ateles, the, their natural history, 489, 490.

ATKINSON, T. W., quoted, 58, 77, 79, 88.

Atlas Mountains, the, their situation and physical aspect, 124, 596.

Atmosphere of mountain-regions, 582, 583.

Aureilhan, lake of, 30.

Australia, discovery of, 231, 232;
  its deserts, 232;
  rivers, 232;
  mountains, 235;
  adventure and exploration in, 235, 236;
  wilderness of, 237;
  expedition by Burke and Wills, 237-240;
  its flora, 273-281;
  its fauna, 366-378;
  its characteristic vegetation, 422-424;
  its aboriginal population, 522, 523.

Auvergne, its extinct volcanoes, 591, 592.

Avatsha, mount, 595.

Aye-Aye, the, its natural history, 494.


Baboon of the Atlas, the, described, 465.

Bahiouda, desert of, described, 122, 123.

BAKER, Sir S., quoted, 202, 287, 288.

Baleniceps, the, account of, 321.

Balsams, the yellow, described, 261.

Bamboo, the, its physiology and uses, 402.

Bamunguatos Mountains, the, chain of, 196.

Banana, the, its physiology and uses, 246, 249, 402, 403.

Banyan, the, account of, 404, 405.

Baobab, the, characteristics and discovery of, 409, 410.

BARTH, Dr., quoted, 204.

Barbary Squirrel, the, account of, 500.

Barren landes, the, described, 549.

_Bassia buttyracea_, 410.

Batata, the, account of, 242.

BATES, H. W., quoted, 341, 347, 358, 386, 387,
  388, 395, 396, 397, 434, 435, 446, 468.

Batna, account of, 127.

Baudouin, lake, description of, 114, 117.

Bauhinias, the, characteristics of, 439.

Bear, the Arctic, natural history of, 565, 566;
  adventures with, 567, 568;
  bear of Europe and Asia, 609, 610;
  of North America, 610, 613.

Bear, the White, account of, 551, 566.

Beaver, the, natural history of, 342;
  dams built by, 343, 344;
  mode of hunting, 345;
  gradual disappearance of, 345.

Bechuana country, the, dryness of, 191.

Bedford, Earls of, their works in the Fen country, 44.

Bedouins, the, their manners, habits, religion, and warlike
  disposition, 179, 180.

Beloor-tagh, mountains of, described, 595.

Benguela, description of, 193;
  flora of, 251.

Benin, climate and aspect of, 193.

Berbers, the, their characteristics, 182.

Betel-nut tree, the, account of, 422.

Biafra described, 193.

Bielukha, mount, described, 594.

Biscarosse, lake, 30; forest, 38.

Bisons, the, natural history of, 338;
  mode of hunting, 339;
  food, migrations, uses, 339.

Bittern, the great, account of, 72.

Black Bear, the, account of, 610.

Black mosquito grass, 263.

Black Mountains, the, 188, 212, 215.

Black pepper, whence procured, 245.

Black Swan, the, account of, 376.

Boa-Constrictor, the, natural history of, 358, 359.

Boars of America, account of, 330.

BOITARD, quoted, 456.

Bolas, Indian, a mode of hunting with, 336, 337.

BONALD, quoted, 503.

_Borassus flabelliformis_, 401, 402.

_Bos arni_, 297.

_Bos bubalus_, 297.

_Boswellia serrata_, 407.

_Botauris stellaris_, 72.--See BITTERN.

Botocoudos, the, described, 539.

_Bradypus torquatus_, 496.

BRANDE, W. T., quoted, 60, 251, 252, 408.

BRAY, Mrs., quoted, 41.

_Brayera anthelmintica_, 249.

Brazil, Campos of, their physical aspects, 270, 271.

Bread-fruit tree, its character and properties, 414, 415.

Brittany, physical history of, 18-20;
  geology 18, 19;
  its Druidic monuments, 19;
  its landes, 20, 24;
  its inhabitants, 23;
  its _dunes_, or sand-hills, 32, 35.

Brown Bear, the, account of, 609.

BRUN, MALTE, quoted, 589.

Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby, described, 375.

BRYANT, W. C., quoted, 216.

Bubalus, the, described, 294.

_Bucephalus viridis_, 327.

BUCKLAND, Dr., quoted, 447.

BUCKLAND, FRANK, quoted, 328.

Buenos Ayres, Pampas of, 226, 228.

Buffalo, the, natural history of, 296;
  mode of hunting, 297;
  of Kaffraria, 295, 296.

BUFFON, quoted, 58, 71, 448, 479.

Bull-frog, the, described, 363, 364.

Buriäts, the, account of, 91, 92.

Burke and Wills, Australian expedition of, 236-240.

BURNETT, quoted, 310, 313.

BURTON, Captain R. F., quoted, 514.

Bustard, the, natural history of, 75.

Butter-tree, the, natural account of, 411.

BYRON, quoted, 14, 135, 136, 201.


Cæsalpineæ, the, account of, 445.

Caimans.--See ALLIGATOR.

_Caladium segmium_, 245.

Calebash nutmeg, the, account of, 246.

California, giant trees of, 430, 431.

Calla, the, account of, 256.

_Callistimon salignum_, 277.

_Callithrix sciurus_, 490.

_Calomys bizcacha_, 342.

Camaroon Mountains, the, account of, 596.

Camel, the, natural history of, 58-64;
  docility and usefulness, 58, 59;
  physiology, 59, 60;
  habits, 60-62;
  moral qualities, 62, 63;
  story of, 63, 64.--See DROMEDARY.

Camel-herd, the, described, 318.

Campanula of Allioni, the, 601.

Campos of Brazil, vegetable life of, 272, 273.

Canada, future prospects of, 209.

Cannes, Keltic memorials at, 19.

Cannibalism in Hindostan, 510;
  in Polynesia, 513;
  in Africa, 514;
  in Ombaï, 519.

Caoutchouc, nature and properties of, 441, 442.

Cape Colony, account of, 188, 191.

Cape Eland, the, 295.

Cape Negro, 193.

Capim Gordura, described, 271.

Capybara, account of the, 341.

Caracara, the, account of, 355.

Caraccas, the Llanos of, 268.

Cariama, the, account of, 354.

Caribs, the, their manners and customs, 538, 539.

Oarnivora, the, habitat and history of, 167-169.

_Carolinea insignis_, 437.

Carpathian Mountains, the, account of, 592

CARRETTE, M., quoted, 166, 167.

Carrion plant, the, described, 254.

Caspian Mountains, the, 595.

Cassanga, flora of, 258.

Cassava bread, described, 242.

Cassia, the, account of, 241.

Casso, the, described, 249.

Cassowary, the, natural history of, 318, 319.

_Castor fiber_, 343.--See BEAVER.

_Casuarina equisetifolia_, 277.

Cathartes, Urubu, the, described, 56.

Catoblepus Gnu, the, described, 295.

Caucasus, mountain-range of, described, 592.

Cazau, lake of, 29, 30.

Cebidæ, the, natural history of, 487, 488.

Cedar-trees, in the Atlas region, 601, 602;
  in England, 603;
  in the Lebanon, 603.

_Celastrus edulis_, 249.

Central Africa, physical features of, 196-198.

Cerastes, the, natural history of, 171, 172.

_Cercopithecus Diana_, 469.

_Cercopithecus ruber_, 469.

Cereopsis, the, account of, 376, 377.

_Cereus Peruvianus_, 266.

Cervus Mexicanus, the, account of, 340.

Cevennes, the, natural features of, 14, 591.

Ceylon, reference to, 415.

CEZA, PIERRE DE, quoted, 438.

Chacma, the, described, 470.

CHAMBERS, WILLIAM, quoted, 38.

Chamois, the, natural history of, 607, 608.

Characeæ, the, described, 259.

Cheetah, the, natural history of, 310, 313.

Cheiromys Madagascariensis, 494.

Chilason, the, described, 68.

Chiquitos, the, account of, 540.

Chulon, the, described, 68.

Ciconia, the, natural history of, 320.

Civets, the, natural history of, 316.

Citrulli, the, 257.

Climate, influence of, 543, 544.

CLOQUET, Dr., quoted, 110.

_Clusia rosea_, 437.

Cobra, the, physiology of, 327, 328.

Cocoa-nut palm, the, description of, 245.

_Cocos oberacea_, 245.

_Coffæa Arabica_, 245.

Coffee-tree, description of, 245

COLERIDGE, S. T., quoted, 119, 120, 590.

_Colocasia mucronatum_, 245.

Colonial millet, account of, 242.

Comanches Indians, the, habits of, 535.

Common Buffalo, the, physiology of, 297.

Common Squirrel, the, 499.

Compass Berg, the, account of, 188.

Compositæ, the, in botany, 253.

Condor of the Andes, account of, 613, 614.

Coniferæ, the, family of, 423, 424.

Convolvuli, American, described, 439.

_Convolvulus Batatas_, 242.

Cook, Captain, voyages of, 232.

Cooper's Creek, in Australia, 236, 238.

Copal-tree, the, properties of, 428.

Coracan, the, account of, 242.

_Corchorus olitorius_, 245.

Cordilleras, the, physical features of, 267.

Corral in Ceylon, the, 299.

_Corypha Australis_, 281.

_Corypha inermis_, 268.

Cossacks, the, manners and customs of, 81, 82.

Cotton-plant, the, in the Sahara, 158.

Cow-tree, the, properties of, 388.

CRAWFORD, quoted, 406.

Crocodile, the, natural history of, 322;
  mode of trapping, 323.

_Crotalus horridus_, 359.

_Croton sebiferum_, 407, 408.

Cucamis, the, described, 257.

Cucurbitaceæ, the, account of, 246.

Cuon Bansu, the, described, 315.

Curlew, the, natural history of 72, 73.

CUVIER, quoted, 286, 345.

Cycadaceæ, the, properties and nature of, 286.

_Cycas circinnalis_, 421.

_Cygnus atratus_, 376.

Cynocephali, the, natural history of, 464;
  habits and propensities, 466.

Cynopitheci, the, natural history of, 466, 467.


DANTE, quoted, 148.

Darling, the river, in Australia, 235.

Dartmoor, physical history of, 39;
  its _tors_, or granite hills, 40;
  morasses, 40;
  ancient forests, 40.

DARWIN, Dr., quoted, 341.

Date-palm, the, its character, fruit, and uses, 154-156.

Date-tree, the, thorny, properties of, 412.

DAUMAS, General, quoted, 132, 164.

D'AURET, Madame LEONIE, quoted, 565.

Daw, the, natural history of, 292.

Dead Sea, description of, 99;
  its phenomena and desolation, 100;
  its basin, 101;
  probable origin, exploration of, 102;
  constituents and character of its waters, 105, 106.

DEANE, quoted, 20.

DELEGORGUE, quoted, 301, 302.

Delta, the, of the Nile, 102.

Derrias, the, account of, 470.

Deserts, the, of France, 13-38;
  England, 39-45;
  of Europe and Asia, 46-50;
  animal life in, 51-77;
  inhabitants of, 78-94;
  deserts of sand, 95, 96, 131, 132, 133;
  rainless deserts, 96, 97, 123;
  of salt, 97, 98, 110;
  of Persia, 97, 98;
  of Arabia, 106-117;
  of Africa, 118-134;
  phenomena of the Deserts, 139-148;
  vegetation in, 149-162;
  animal life in, 162-173;
  fauna of, 173, 174;
  inhabitants of, 174-185;
  of Africa, 186-205, _et passim_.

DESFONTAINES, quoted, 465.

DESMOULINS, quoted, 558.

Desplobado, Desert of, 229.

DE ST. BLAIZE, M., quoted, 571-573.

DE ST. VINCENT, M. BORY, 569.

DIARD, quoted, 288, 289.

Dima, the, account of, 249.

Dinotherium, the, described, 447.

_Dioscorea alata_, 242.

Djemel, or Common Camel, the, 163-165.

Dog-headed Opossum, the, described, 372.

Dogs, the Prairie, so-called, 350-352;
  wild dogs, 313.

Dolmens of Brittany, the, 20.

_Doranthes excelsa_, 280, 281.

Douc, the, account of, 468.

_Dracæna terminalis_, 422.

Dromedary, the, natural history of, 162, 163.

Dryandra, the, nature and properties of, 280.

_Dryobabanops camphora_, 418.

Dseren, the, described, 67.

DU CHAILLU, quoted, 323, 481, 483.

Duck-billed Platypus, the, characters of, 374, 375.

Dunes, or Sand-hills.--See SAND-HILLS.

D'URVILLE, DUMONT, explorations of, 553.

Dutch discoveries in Australia, 232.

DYER, quoted, 44


Eagles, adventure with, 75-77.

Echidna, the, natural history of, 373, 374.

_Echinacea purpureas_, 261.

Egagra, the, reference to, 67.

Egypt, desert of, described, 120;
  soil, 152;
  vegetable life of, 152-154;
  inhabitants of, 183, 184.

_Elæis Guinensis_, 412.

Eland, the, natural history of, 65, 66.

Elburz, Mount, 592.

_Eleasine Corocana_, 242.

_Eleasine Tocussa_, 242.

Electric Eel, the, its nature and phenomena, 364;
  mode of catching them, 365, 366.

Elephant, the, natural history of, 286, 450;
  various species, habitat, mode of march, 451;
  treatment of the young, 451, 452;
  mode of entrapping, 452-455;
  elephant hunts in Hindostan and Ceylon, 455, 456;
  general characteristics, 456-459.

Elephant Seal, the, 568.

El-Kantara, Oases of, described, 158, 159.

ELLIS, Rev. WILLIAM, quoted, 427, 527.

EMERSON, R. W., quoted, 516.

Emu, the, natural history of, 375, 376;
  the "Wingless," 377.

England, colonial empire of, 209.

Epacridæ, the, natural history of, 277.

_Ephedra_, 264.

_Ephedra alata_, 148.

Epicea, the, described, 599.

Equatorial Africa, expedition in, by Burton and Speke, 201;
  Barth and Denham, 203, 204.

_Erica Cavendishiana_, 255.

Eriocaulons, the, description of, 262.

_Eriodendron Samaüma_, 388.

Erosion, Desert of, its physical features, 128, 131.

Eskimos, or Esquimaux, the, in Arctic America, their
  appearance, character, habits, and manners, 578.

Etna, mount, description of, 590;
  physical character of, 591.

Eucalyptic, or gum-trees of Australia, described, 279, 280.

Euhydra tribus, 564, 565.

Euphorbiaceæ, the, description of, 248, 254.

Europe, invasions of, by Asiatic tribes, 79.


Falls of the Zambesi, described, 198, 201.

FELINSKA, Madame, quoted, 575.

Fen country of England, the, described, 41;
  extent of, 42;
  ancient aspect, 42;
  modern landscapes, oases, drainage, 43, 44;
  present productiveness, 44;
  general character, 45.

Fennec, the, characteristics of, 314, 315.

Ficus Indica, or Banyan-tree, 404, 405;
  of the Indian Archipelago, 412.

Fish Hawk, the, described, 356.

Fishing Eagle, the, described, 355, 356.

Flamingo, the, description of, 320;
  habits of, 321;
  varieties of, 353.

Flax, Australian, its properties, 276.

FLETCHER, quoted, 24.

Flying Squirrel, the, natural history of, 500, 501.

Fontainebleau, forest of, described, 17.

FORBES, Professor, quoted, 573.

Forest, a petrified, account of, 117.

Forests, their general features, 379, 380;
  botany of, 380;
  influence of, on temperature, and properties, 383, 384;
  in Europe and Asia, 384;
  in America, 385-389;
  flora of, 389-394.--See WOODS.

FORGUES, M., quoted, 98, 99.

Fox squirrel, the, natural history of, 500.

Foxes, the Polar, characteristics of, 565.

France, deserts of, described, 13, 14;
  mountains of, 14-17;
  forests of, 17;
  marshes, 17, 18.

FROMENTIN, M., quoted, 132.


Gallago, the, account of, 491.

Gamboge, Indian, its uses, 415, 416.

_Gangeticus Crocodilus_, 323.

Gariep river, the, in South Africa, 191.

Gascony, characteristics of the Llandes of, 24, 27-29;
  its sand-hills, 35, 36.

Gavial, the, natural history of, 323.

_Gazella Soemmeringii_, 169.

Gazelles of the Steppes, description of the, 169.

Genets, the, natural history of, 316.

Gentian, the yellow, described, 599.

GERVAIS, M. PAUL, quoted, 371-373, 466.

Ghauts, mountain-range of the, in Hindostan, 595.

Ghonds, cannibalism amongst the, 511.

GIBBON, the historian, quoted, 178, 179.

Gibbon-Lar, the, 478.

Gibbon Monkey, the, character of, 470;
  habitat, and natural history of, 477;
  various species of, 477-479.

Gibbon-Siamang, the, 477.

Gipsies, the, their habitats, 84;
  their various names, and immigration into Europe, 85;
  peculiarities of, 86;
  in Russia, 87.

Giraffe, the, natural history of, 293, 294.

Glutton, the Arctic, described, 563.

Gneiss mountains, characteristics of, 585, 586.

Gnu, the, natural history of, 294, 295.

Goat, the Wild, described, 67, 607.

Goats' Serpent, the, account of, 326, 327.

Gobi, desert of, its physical features, 97;
  plateau of, 47.

GOETHE, quoted, 190.

Goose, the Cerefaced, described, 376.

Gorilla, the, natural history of, 481-486;
  its appearance and habits, 482, 483;
  mode of hunting, 484.

Gossypium, the, account of, 407.

GOULD, quoted, 371.

Grallatores, the African, characters of, 321.

Gramineæ, the, family of, 437.

Granite, structure of, 585.

Grasses of the American Steppes, 267.

GRAY, Dr., quoted, 291.

Gray Squirrel, the, account of, 499, 500.

Great Karoo, the, described, 188.

Green Climber, the, account of, 327.

GREY, Sir GEORGE, quoted, 376.

Grisly Bear, the, habits and physiology of, 610.

Guacho of the Pampas, the, 230, 231.

Guaiacum, its properties, 264.

Guaranis, the, manners and customs of, 538, 539.

Guatemala, flora of, 266.

Guépard, the, natural history of, 310.

Guiana, savannahs of, 245, 246.

Guinea corn, its properties, 242.

Guinea palm, the, character of, 413.

Guinea pepper, nature of, 246.

_Gulo Arcticus_, 563.

Gymnoti, the, 364.--See ELECTRIC EEL.

_Gynerium saccharoides_, 273.


_Haliætus Leucocephalus_, 355.

Hare, the Arctic, 561.

Hare, the Varying, 67.

Harpy Eagle, the, natural history of, 355.

HARRIS, Major, quoted, 472.

Heather-cock, the, described, 75.

_Hectia Pitcairniæfolia_, 279.

_Helichrysum fruticosum_, 255.

HELL, Madame HOMMAIRE DE, quoted, 50, 58, 61, 62, 63, 81, 84.

HELPS, ARTHUR, quoted, 508, 515, 516.

Hemionus, or Wild Horse, the, natural history of, 290, 291.

Hemippus, or Wild Mare, the, natural history of, 291.

Henna plant, the, properties of, 410.

Heron of the Steppes, the, described, 72;
  species of, 72.

HERSCHELL, Sir JOHN, quoted, 589.

HERVE and LANOYE, MM., quoted, 543, 549.

Himalaya Mountains, configuration, structure, and vegetation of, 593;
  glaciers of, 594;
  cedars and rhododendrons of, 604, 605;
  flora of, 605.

Hindostan, flora of, 398-401.

Hindu reverence for the banyan, 405.

Hippopotamus, the, natural history of, 286, 287;
  adventure with, 288.

HOMER, quoted, 49, 146.

Honey-guide, the, why so called, 317.

Honeysuckle, the Arctic, described, 556.

HOOKER, Dr. JOSEPH, quoted, 593, 603.

Hops, the African, description of, 298, 299.

HORACE, quoted, 193.

Horeb, Mount, description of, 112.

Horse, the, in America, 350.

Horse, the Wild, description of, 290.

Hottentots, the, character of, 521.

Howling Monkey, physiology of the, 488, 489.

Huanacu, the, uses of, 335.

HUC, the Abbé, quoted, 69, 70, 75, 76, 77.

Hudson's Bay, account of, 546.

HUMBOLDT, A. VON, quoted, 48, 49, 78, 226, 268, 350,
  359, 389, 439, 469, 555.

Hungary, mountain system of, 592.

Hurricane in the Steppes, account of, 230.

Hyæna of the Cape, the, natural history of, 313.

_Hyæna villosa_, 313.

_Hydrochærus capybara_, 341.

Hydrophis, the, account of, 378.

_Hylobates cinereus_, 479.

_Hylobates leuciscus_, 478.

_Hylobates syndactylus_, 477, 478.

Hyperborean races, the, their manners, customs, and
  characteristics, 570, 571.


Ibis, the, natural history of, 321.

Ice-fields, their aspect, 552.

Ice-mountains, features of, 551.

Ichneumon, the, natural history of, 316.

_Ignatia amara_, 440.

Immortelle, the, characteristics of, 255.

India, palms of, their physiology, 401, 402.

Indian millet, uses of, 242.

Indian oak, its properties, 406.

Indians of North America, their history and character, 532-534.

Indigo, nature and properties of, 246, 407.

_Indigofera tinctoria_, 245.

Ipo-antiar, the, its nature and properties, 416, 417.

Iron Bark Tree, the, uses of, 279, 280.

Iron Mountains, the, vegetation of, 260, 262.

_Isonandra-Percha_, the, its nature, 418.


Jacana, the, characteristics of, 321.

Jaguar, the, natural history of, 350.

_Jalapa officinalis_, 439.

JANIN, JULES, quoted, 18.

_Jatropha manihot_, 242.

Java, vegetable life in, 418, 421.

Jebel-Gaouss, reference to the, 128.

Jebel-Tougour, reference to the, 127.

JEPHSON, quoted, 20.

Jerbilla, the, natural history of, 170, 171.

Jerboa, the, natural history of, 170.

Jocko, the, of Buffon, 479.

JOMARD, M., quoted, 147.

Jordan, valley of the, its physical features, 101, 102.


Kabara, the port of, 204.

Kaffirs, the, character of, 520, 521.

Kaffraria, physical features of, 191;
  flora of, 252-256.

Kalihari Desert, physical features of, 191-193;
  flora of, 256, 257.

Kalmüks, the, ethnology, religion, character, customs of, 83, 84.

Kamtschatdales, the, physical features of, 577.

Kamtschatka, mountains of, 595.

Kanaks, the, 532.

Kandelung valley, the, account of, 196, 197.

Kangaroo, the Great, physical character, habits, and manners of, 368, 369.

Karroos of South Africa, the, 188, 191.

KEATS, quoted, 196.

Kenia, Mount, in Equatorial Africa, 597.

Kerman, Desert of, 97, 98.

_Khaya Senegalensis_, 410.

Khirgiz, the, races of, 87, 88;
  customs, dwellings, attire, 89, 90, 91;
  character and mode of life, 91.

Kilimandjaro, Mount, in Equatorial Africa, 597.

Kina-balu, Mount, in Africa, 596.

KINGSLEY, Rev. CHARLES, quoted, 42.

Kite, the Black, reference to, 75.

Kong Mountains, the, in Africa, 596.

Kooloo-Kamba, the, 481.

Koragum, the, described, 71.

Koran, reference to the, 177.

Kordofan, physical features of, 247.

Korosko, Desert of, its physical features, 121, 122.

Korsak, the, described, 71.

Kuen-lun Mountains, the, in Asia, 595.


_Lacerta crocodilus_, 322.

Lagomys, the, natural history of, 561, 562.

LANDOR, W. S., quoted, 282.

LANOYE, F. DE, quoted, 398, 401.

LAORTY-HADJI, Father, quoted, 101, 102.

Laplanders, the, their character, occupation, mode of
  life, cradles, huts, and general characters, 571-573.

LATHAM, Dr., quoted, 93.

Lauraceæ, the, family of, described, 407.

_Laurus cinnamomum_, 414.

LAUTURE, Comte ESCAYRAC DE, quoted, 146, 147.

_Lavatera plebeia_, 276.

_Lawsonia inermis_, 410.

Lebanon, mountains of, 595.

_Lecythis ollaria_, 434.

Leeba river, the, 197, 198;
  flora of, 257, 258.

Leguminosæ, the, family of, described, 277.

Leopard, the, natural history and anecdotes of, 303-305.

_Lepus variabilis_, 67.

Liana tieuté, described, 417.

_Lichen esculentus_, 173, 174.

_Lignum vitæ_, 264.

_Limoniastrum Guyanianum_, 149.

LINNÆUS (LINNE), quoted, 428, 463, 471, 491.

_Linum marginale_, 276.

Lion, the, natural history of, 300;
  old fables respecting, 300;
  habits of, 301;
  general characters of, 303.

LIVINGSTONE, Dr., quoted, 192, 195, 197, 198, 256,
  257, 298, 299, 302, 303, 325, 326.

Llama, the, natural history of, 333;
  anecdotes respecting, 337.

Llaneros, the, account of, 220.

Llano-Estacado, the, 219.

Llanora, flora of, 266, 267.

Llanos, the.--See PAMPAS.

Lobata, plains of, 197.

Loganiaceæ, the, family of, described, 417.

LONGFELLOW, quoted, 42, 128, 385, 600.

Lorinthaceæ, family of, described, 251.

Loris, the, natural history of, 491.

LUCAN, quoted, 165.

LUND, Dr., quoted, 496.

Lupata Mountains, in Africa, 191.

LYON, Captain, quoted, 566.


Maca, the, account of, 229.

_Macropus giganteus_, 368, 369.

Madagascar, flora of, 424-428.

Mahari, the, natural history of, 163, 164.

Mahogany Tree, the, account of, 410.

Maïs del Agua, 270.

Makis, the, habits of, 492, 493.

Malabar Squirrel, the, natural history of, 500.

Malays, the, character and habits of, 526, 527.

Mamanchota, Organ Mountain of, 587.

Mammoth, the, natural history of, 448-450.

Man, supposed analogy between the Ape and, 471;
  early history of, 515.

Manchineal, the, nature and qualities of, 427, 440.

Mandinké, the, tribe of, 518.

Mandrill, the, described, 469.

Mangrove tree, the, physiology of, 411, 412, 442.

Manioc, the, properties of, 242.

Manna plant, particulars of, 173.

MANT, Bishop, quoted, 72-75.

Mara, the, reference to, 342.

Marmot, the Alpine, account of, 608, 609.

Marquesas Islands, the, inhabitants of, 529, 530.

Marsupials, their physiology and characteristics,
  367.--See KANGAROO, PHALANGA, PHASCOLARCTOS, THYLACYNI.

Martagon, the, described, 599.

Martens of the North, the, account of, 562, 563.

MARTIN, Sir ROGER, his exploits as a tiger-killer, 310.

MARTINS, M. CHARLES, quoted, 124, 127, 131, 132, 133, 136,
  138, 154, 601, 602.

Massaranduba, the, described, 388, 435.

Mastodon, the, particulars of, 447, 448.

Mauritia Palm, the, uses and importance of, 268.

MAURY, Captain, quoted, 526, 532, 533, 534, 586.

Mauvaises Terres, in Nebraska, description of the, 212.

Mediterranean, the, 542.

Mekran, Desert of, 98.

_Melantha punctuata_, 150, 154, 161, 601, 602.

Mesembryanthema described, 253, 257.

Mexico, Pampas of, 219;
  Savage Man in, 537.

MICHELET, quoted, 321, 322.

MILTON, the poet, quoted, 100, 197, 265, 393.

MILTON, Lord, and Dr. CHEADLE, quoted, 385, 386.

_Milvus ater_, 75.--See KITE.

Minizan, destruction of, 38.

Minosa, the, account of, 268.

Mint, Australian, described, 276.

Mirage, the, description of, 143;
  its effects and origin, 144, 145;
  explanation of, 146;
  characteristics of, 147, 148.

Mohammed, reference to, 178.

_Mollugo cerviana_, 253.

Moluccas, Flora of the, 421.

Mongolia, its position, history, present condition, ruined cities, 92;
  religion, races, and physical characteristics, 93, 94.

Mongolian family, the, offshoots of, 175.--See ARABS, SHEMITES.

Monkey, the, of the Old World, 468;
  of South America, 468, 488.--See CHACMA, DERRIAS,
  DOUC, MANDRILL, HOWLING MONKEY, PREACHER MONKEY, RED MONKEY,
  SPOTTED MONKEY.

_Monodora myristica_, 246.

Monostremata, the, natural history of, 373-375.--See ECHIDNA.

Montoir, marshes of, 17, 18.

MOORE, quoted, 98, 136, 143, 155, 156.

MORIN, quoted, 203.

Mossamedes, gardens of, 251.

Mosses, Arctic, properties of, 556.

Moufflon, the, description of, 606.

Mount Despair, 238.

Mountains, the, atmosphere of, 582, 583;
  distribution and configuration of, 585;
  constituents of, 585, 586;
  of Europe, 588, 592, 597, 598;
  of Asia, 593-596;
  of Africa, 596, 597;
  vegetable and animal life of, 598-614.

Mourad, Desert of, 127.

Mpongwes, the, account of, 518.

Mulhaçen, Peak of, in the Pyrenees, 591.

MÜLLER, MAX, quoted, 79, 88, 92.

MURRAY, C. A., quoted, 351, 352, 360.

Murray, the river, 235.

_Musa, ensete_, 249.

_Musimon argali_, 606.

_Musimon montanus_, 606.

Musk-deer, the, 608.

Musk-ox, the, 557, 558.

Mustelidæ, the, natural history of, 317.

_Mycetes Beelzebub_, 468, 469.

_Mycetes strumineus_, 468.

Myosotis, the, 601.

_Myrmecophaga piliata_, 346-348.

_Myrsine variabilis_, 277.


Nadjed, table-land of, 111.

Nandau, the, account of, 353.

Nanguer (Gazelle), the, described, 169.

_Narsilia macropus_, 276, 277.

_Nasalis larvatus_, 468.

Natal, coast of, 191.

Nature, the study of, 428, 429.

Negro Cynopithecus, the, described, 467.

Negro, the, habitat of, 516, 517;
  his physical peculiarities, 517;
  in Africa, 517-521;
  in Australia, 522.

_Nelumbium calophyllum_, 259, 262.

_Nepenthes distillatoria_ (or Pitcher Plant), the, described, 421.

New Holland, rivers of, 232.

Ngami, Lake, in Central Africa, 194;
flora of, 257.

Nieuveld Bergen, in South Africa, 187, 597.

Niger, the, delta of, 193; valley of, 204.

Nigritia, vegetation of, 246, 247.

Nile, river, fecundity of, 118, 152;
  struggle between it and the Desert, 118;
  mountains of, 119;
  scenery of the valley of, 120;
  sources of the, 203;
  valley of, 152.

_Nipa fructicans_, 418.

North America, superiority of, over South America, 209;
  Deserts of, 210.--See PRAIRIES.

Noukahiva, islanders of, 530-532.

Nova Zembla, described, 550.

_Nshiégo-Mbouvé_, the, account of, 481.

Nubia, women of, 184, 185.

_Nuphar lutea_, 263.

Nutmeg, the Calebash, account of, 246.

Nux Vomica, its properties, 417.

N'yanyizi-Nyassa, lake in Central Africa, 201.

Nylghau, the, description of, 295.


Oases of the Sahara, 128;
  their formation, 154;
  vegetable life of the, 155-157;
  of El-Kantara, described, 158, 159;
  of Ouargla, 159, 160;
  springs of, 161;
  precarious conditions of the existence of 161, 162.

_OEnothera macrocarpa_, 261.

OEstre, the, 558, 561.

Ombai, inhabitants of, 528, 529.

Onagra, the, natural history of, 291;
  description of, 56;
  properties and uses, 56-58.

Ophidia, the, physiology and characteristics of, 224, 325.

_Oplismenus colonus_, 242.

_Opuntia frutescens_, 266.

Orang-Outang, habitat of, 472;
  description of, 473;
  habits of, 473, 474;
  general details, 474-476.

Organ Mountains of Brazil, described, 587.

Orinoco, the river, 220, 223.

_Oriza sativa_, its properties, 242.

Ostiaks, the, described, 575;
  priests and worship of, 575;
  mode of hunting of, 576.

Ostrich, the, natural history of, 317;
  anecdotes of, 318;
  American species of, 353.

Otter of Kamtschatka, the, described, 564.

Ouaregla, oasis of, described, 159, 160.

Ouistitis, the, account of, 490, 491.

Ourmiah, or Urumiyeh, Salt Lake of, 111.

Ox, the, in America, 330.


Paca, the, natural history of, 341, 342.

Pachydermata, the, characteristics of, 285, 286.

Palisades of the Hudson, 587;
  of the Rocky Mountains, 588.

PALLISER, Captain, his expedition of discovery, 385.

Palmaceæ, the, physiology of the family of, 408.

Palm Moriche, the, described, 268, 269.

Palm tree, in Egypt, 152;
  growth of, in oases, 156;
  properties and uses of the fruit, 157;
  general details, 401, 402.

Pampas, the, description of, 219, 220;
  inhabitants, 220;
  area and physical aspects, 220-231.

Pampas grass, the, uses of, 273.

Pampas Indians, the, characteristics of, 539, 540.

Pampero, the, phenomenon of, 230.

_Pandarus candelabrum_, 245.

Panther, the, natural history of, 303.

Papaw tree, the, character of, 442.

Papuans, the, their manners and customs, 524, 525.

Paradoxures, the, described, 316, 317.

Paraguay river, the, 201.

Pariah Dog of India, described, 315.

PARKYNS, MANSFIELD, quoted, 249, 462.

_Parry_, Captain, expedition of, 580.

_Partux picta_, 295.

Pashiúba tree, the, account of, 388, 389, 446.

Pasom, the, described, 295.

Passiflora, the, order of, 439.

Patagonia, Pampas of, their physical aspect, 227, 228, 273;
  vegetable life in the, 258-266.

Patagonians, character of the, 540.

_Paullinia pinnata_, 439.

Peccary of America, its natural history, 330.

Pecherais, the, their habits, 542.

Pelican, the, natural history of, 74, 75.

PENNANT, quoted, 307.

_Pennicellaria spicata_, 242.

_Pennisetum fasciculare_, 275.

Pernambuco, Pampas of, described, 219, 226.

PERRIS, M., quoted, 37.

Peru, conquest of, 206, 209;
  plains of, 267, 268.

_Petrogale brachiotis_, 375.

_Petrogale penicillata_, 375.

Phacocoerus, the, natural history of, 289, 290.

Phalanga, the, account of, 371.

Phascolarctos, the, described, 370.

Phascolomys (or Wombat), the, introduced into Europe, 369;
  discovery of, 370;
  description of, 371.

Philippine Islands, the, vegetable life in, 423.

Phlox, the, character of, 261.

Picakolou, the, natural history of, 325, 326.

_Pimelia axiflora_, 277.

Pine Barrens of Mexico, the, description of, 215, 216.

Pine of New Caledonia, the, 424.

Pipa, the, account of, 363.

_Piper nigrum_, 245.

Pirates of the Desert, 175.

_Pistacia lentiscus_, 148.

_Pistacia terebinthus_, 148.

_Pistia spatulata_, 264.

_Poa Abyssinica_, 142.

Polar Regions, the, extent and area of, 544, 545;
  of America, described, 545;
  of Asia, 549, 550;
  of Europe, 550, 551;
  discoveries in, 551-555;
  animal and vegetable life in, 555-568;
  characters of the inhabitants of, 569-579.

Polecat, the Arctic, described, 563.

Polynesia, cannibalism in, 513;
  inhabitants of, their manners and customs, 528-532.

POPE, the poet, quoted, 151, 509.

Porcupine Ant-Eater, the, natural history of, 373, 374.

Porphyry, mountains of, 586.

Portuguese, discoveries of the, in the Terra Australis, 231, 232.

POTT, Professor, quoted, 86.

Prairies of North America, description of the, 211-215;
  of Central America, 216-219;
  vegetable life in the, 258-266.

Preacher Monkey, the, described, 468.

Primeval Forests, the, characters of, 385, 386.

PRINGLE, quoted, 194.

Proboscideæ, the, physiology of, 447, 448.

Protaceæ, the, account of, 256.

_Proteles Lalandii_, 313, 314.

_Protococcus nivalis_, 601.

_Psamma arenaria_, 31.

_Pteris caudata_, 271.

_Pteromys splendens_, 501.

_Pteromys volans_, 501.

_Pteromys volucella_, 501.

PTOLEMÆUS, reference to, 151.

_Pudonta gigas_, 345.

Puff Adder, the, characters of, 326, 327.

Puma, the, natural history of, 348, 349.

Pyrenees, the, description of, 591.

_Pythecus lar_, 478.

Python Mouse, the, described, 325.

Python of Sunda, the, described, 325.


Quagga, the, natural history of, 291, 292.

Quango, the, valley of, 258.

QUARTERLY REVIEW, quoted, 188.

Quichuas, the, manners and habits of, 540, 541.

Quicksands in Arabia, described, 110, 111.

Quinquina, the, properties of, 441.


Race, influence of, on the world's history, 515, 516.

Races of the Desert, their characteristics, 174-185.

RADIQUET, M. MAX, quoted, 530, 531.

Rafflesia Arnoldi, discovery of, 417;
  description of, 418.

Rain in the Sahara, 155.

_Ratellus mellivorus_, 317.

Rattlesnake, the, physiology of, 359-361.

Ravenala Madagascariensis, the, account of, 427.

REACH, ANGUS, quoted, 29, 35.

Red Monkey, the, peculiarities of, 469.

Red Skins, the, ancient distribution of, 534;
  false romance with which they have been invested, 534, 535;
  various races of, 535, 536;
  physical peculiarities of, 536.

Reinaondaban, the, account of, 210.

Reindeer, the, natural history of, 558-561.

RENAN, M., quoted, 176.

RENNIE, JOHN, reference to, 44.

_Retama Duriæi_, 148.

Rhinoceros, the, physiology of, 459, 460;
  its habitats, 460;
  the Indian species of, 460;
  Javanese, 460, 461;
  African, 461, 462;
  adventure with a, 462.

_Rhizophora mangle_, 411.

_Rhus toxicodendrum_, 259.

RICHARDSON, Sir J., quoted, 211, 561.

Rocellæ, the, nature and properties of, 251.

Rocky Mountains of North America, the, 210, 211.

Rodentia, family of the, described, 169.

Roebuck of Tartary, the, described, 65.

Roggeveld Bergen, the, in South Africa, 187.

ROSE, COOPER, quoted, 462.

Rose of Jericho, the, described, 149.

ROSS, Sir JAMES, quoted, 556, 561;
  Arctic discoveries of, 554, 555.

ROWE, Rev. J., quoted, 40.

ROWE, NATHANIEL, quoted, 300.

RUSKIN, J., quoted, 383, 384, 579.


_Saccharum officinarum_, 246.

SACHOT, M. OCTAVE, quoted, 527.

Sagalien, inhabitants of, described, 579.

Sago-palms, the, properties of, 421.

Sahara, the African, its physical aspects, 123, 124;
  mountains, 127;
  oases, described, 128, 154;
  its peculiarity of aspect, 151;
  area, 151, 152;
  climate of, 155.

Saiga, the, natural history of, 66, 67.

Salsolaceæ, the, properties of, 148.

Salt Desert, the, character of.--See DESERTS.

Salt-wort, described, 148.

Samoiedes, the, history and character of, 573-575.

Sand, Deserts of.--See DESERTS.

Sand-hills of Brittany, the, 32;
  their mode of formation, 35;
  of Gascony, 35;
  density and configuration, 36, 37;
  inland encroachments, 37, 38;
  their peculiar influenc