A NEW MARE INTERNUM
At first I could hardly see anything. My eyes, unaccustomed to the
light, quickly closed. When I was able to reopen them, I stood more
stupefied even than surprised.
"The sea!" I cried.
"Yes," my uncle replied, "the Liedenbrock Sea; and I don't suppose
any other discoverer will ever dispute my claim to name it after
myself as its first discoverer."
A vast sheet of water, the commencement of a lake or an ocean, spread
far away beyond the range of the eye, reminding me forcibly of that
open sea which drew from Xenophon's ten thousand Greeks, after their
long retreat, the simultaneous cry, "Thalatta! thalatta!" the sea!
the sea! The deeply indented shore was lined with a breadth of fine
shining sand, softly lapped by the waves, and strewn with the small
shells which had been inhabited by the first of created beings. The
waves broke on this shore with the hollow echoing murmur peculiar to
vast inclosed spaces. A light foam flew over the waves before the
breath of a moderate breeze, and some of the spray fell upon my face.
On this slightly inclining shore, about a hundred fathoms from the
limit of the waves, came down the foot of a huge wall of vast cliffs,
which rose majestically to an enormous height. Some of these,
dividing the beach with their sharp spurs, formed capes and
promontories, worn away by the ceaseless action of the surf. Farther
on the eye discerned their massive outline sharply defined against
the hazy distant horizon.
It was quite an ocean, with the irregular shores of earth, but desert
and frightfully wild in appearance.
If my eyes were able to range afar over this great sea, it was
because a peculiar light brought to view every detail of it. It was
not the light of the sun, with his dazzling shafts of brightness and
the splendour of his rays; nor was it the pale and uncertain shimmer
of the moonbeams, the dim reflection of a nobler body of light. No;
the illuminating power of this light, its trembling diffusiveness,
its bright, clear whiteness, and its low temperature, showed that it
must be of electric origin. It was like an aurora borealis, a
continuous cosmical phenomenon, filling a cavern of sufficient extent
to contain an ocean.
The vault that spanned the space above, the sky, if it could be
called so, seemed composed of vast plains of cloud, shifting and
variable vapours, which by their condensation must at certain times
fall in torrents of rain. I should have thought that under so
powerful a pressure of the atmosphere there could be no evaporation;
and yet, under a law unknown to me, there were broad tracts of vapour
suspended in the air. But then 'the weather was fine.' The play of
the electric light produced singular effects upon the upper strata of
cloud. Deep shadows reposed upon their lower wreaths; and often,
between two separated fields of cloud, there glided down a ray of
unspeakable lustre. But it was not solar light, and there was no
heat. The general effect was sad, supremely melancholy. Instead of
the shining firmament, spangled with its innumerable stars, shining
singly or in clusters, I felt that all these subdued and shaded
fights were ribbed in by vast walls of granite, which seemed to
overpower me with their weight, and that all this space, great as it
was, would not be enough for the march of the humblest of satellites.
Then I remembered the theory of an English captain, who likened the
earth to a vast hollow sphere, in the interior of which the air
became luminous because of the vast pressure that weighed upon it;
while two stars, Pluto and Proserpine, rolled within upon the circuit
of their mysterious orbits.
We were in reality shut up inside an immeasurable excavation. Its
width could not be estimated, since the shore ran widening as far as
eye could reach, nor could its length, for the dim horizon bounded
the new. As for its height, it must have been several leagues. Where
this vault rested upon its granite base no eye could tell; but there
was a cloud hanging far above, the height of which we estimated at
12,000 feet, a greater height than that of any terrestrial vapour,
and no doubt due to the great density of the air.
The word cavern does not convey any idea of this immense space; words
of human tongue are inadequate to describe the discoveries of him who
ventures into the deep abysses of earth.
Besides I could not tell upon what geological theory to account for
the existence of such an excavation. Had the cooling of the globe
produced it? I knew of celebrated caverns from the descriptions of
travellers, but had never heard of any of such dimensions as this.
If the grotto of Guachara, in Colombia, visited by Humboldt, had not
given up the whole of the secret of its depth to the philosopher, who
investigated it to the depth of 2,500 feet, it probably did not
extend much farther. The immense mammoth cave in Kentucky is of
gigantic proportions, since its vaulted roof rises five hundred feet
 above the level of an unfathomable lake and travellers have
explored its ramifications to the extent of forty miles. But what
were these cavities compared to that in which I stood with wonder and
admiration, with its sky of luminous vapours, its bursts of electric
light, and a vast sea filling its bed? My imagination fell powerless
before such immensity.
I gazed upon these wonders in silence. Words failed me to express my
feelings. I felt as if I was in some distant planet Uranus or Neptune--
and in the presence of phenomena of which my terrestrial experience
gave me no cognisance. For such novel sensations, new words were
wanted; and my imagination failed to supply them. I gazed, I thought,
I admired, with a stupefaction mingled with a certain amount of fear.
The unforeseen nature of this spectacle brought back the colour to my
cheeks. I was under a new course of treatment with the aid of
astonishment, and my convalescence was promoted by this novel system
of therapeutics; besides, the dense and breezy air invigorated me,
supplying more oxygen to my lungs.
It will be easily conceived that after an imprisonment of forty seven
days in a narrow gallery it was the height of physical enjoyment to
breathe a moist air impregnated with saline particles.
 One hundred and twenty. (Trans.)
I was delighted to leave my dark grotto. My uncle, already familiar
with these wonders, had ceased to feel surprise.
"You feel strong enough to walk a little way now?" he asked.
"Yes, certainly; and nothing could be more delightful."
"Well, take my arm, Axel, and let us follow the windings of the
I eagerly accepted, and we began to coast along this new sea. On the
left huge pyramids of rock, piled one upon another, produced a
prodigious titanic effect. Down their sides flowed numberless
waterfalls, which went on their way in brawling but pellucid streams.
A few light vapours, leaping from rock to rock, denoted the place of
hot springs; and streams flowed softly down to the common basin,
gliding down the gentle slopes with a softer murmur.
Amongst these streams I recognised our faithful travelling companion,
the Hansbach, coming to lose its little volume quietly in the mighty
sea, just as if it had done nothing else since the beginning of the
"We shall see it no more," I said, with a sigh.
"What matters," replied the philosopher, "whether this or another
serves to guide us?"
I thought him rather ungrateful.
But at that moment my attention was drawn to an unexpected sight. At
a distance of five hundred paces, at the turn of a high promontory,
appeared a high, tufted, dense forest. It was composed of trees of
moderate height, formed like umbrellas, with exact geometrical
outlines. The currents of wind seemed to have had no effect upon
their shape, and in the midst of the windy blasts they stood unmoved
and firm, just like a clump of petrified cedars.
I hastened forward. I could not give any name to these singular
creations. Were they some of the two hundred thousand species of
vegetables known hitherto, and did they claim a place of their own in
the lacustrine flora? No; when we arrived under their shade my
surprise turned into admiration. There stood before me productions of
earth, but of gigantic stature, which my uncle immediately named.
"It is only a forest of mushrooms," said he.
And he was right. Imagine the large development attained by these
plants, which prefer a warm, moist climate. I knew that the
LYCOPODON GIGANTEUM attains, according to Bulliard, a circumference
of eight or nine feet; but here were pale mushrooms, thirty to forty
feet high, and crowned with a cap of equal diameter. There they stood
in thousands. No light could penetrate between their huge cones, and
complete darkness reigned beneath those giants; they formed
settlements of domes placed in close array like the round, thatched
roofs of a central African city.
Yet I wanted to penetrate farther underneath, though a chill fell
upon me as soon as I came under those cellular vaults. For half an
hour we wandered from side to side in the damp shades, and it was a
comfortable and pleasant change to arrive once more upon the sea
But the subterranean vegetation was not confined to these fungi.
Farther on rose groups of tall trees of colourless foliage and easy
to recognise. They were lowly shrubs of earth, here attaining
gigantic size; lycopodiums, a hundred feet high; the huge sigillaria,
found in our coal mines; tree ferns, as tall as our fir-trees in
northern latitudes; lepidodendra, with cylindrical forked stems,
terminated by long leaves, and bristling with rough hairs like those
of the cactus.
"Wonderful, magnificent, splendid!" cried my uncle. "Here is the
entire flora of the second period of the world--the transition
period. These, humble garden plants with us, were tall trees in the
early ages. Look, Axel, and admire it all. Never had botanist such a
feast as this!"
"You are right, my uncle. Providence seems to have preserved in this
immense conservatory the antediluvian plants which the wisdom of
philosophers has so sagaciously put together again."
"It is a conservatory, Axel; but is it not also a menagerie?"
"Surely not a menagerie!"
"Yes; no doubt of it. Look at that dust under your feet; see the
bones scattered on the ground."
"So there are!" I cried; "bones of extinct animals."
I had rushed upon these remains, formed of indestructible phosphates
of lime, and without hesitation I named these monstrous bones, which
lay scattered about like decayed trunks of trees.
"Here is the lower jaw of a mastodon,"  I said. "These are the
molar teeth of the deinotherium; this femur must have belonged to the
greatest of those beasts, the megatherium. It certainly is a
menagerie, for these remains were not brought here by a deluge. The
animals to which they belonged roamed on the shores of this
subterranean sea, under the shade of those arborescent trees. Here
are entire skeletons. And yet I cannot understand the appearance of
these quadrupeds in a granite cavern."
 These animals belonged to a late geological period, the Pliocene,
just before the glacial epoch, and therefore could have no connection
with the carboniferous vegetation. (Trans.)
"Because animal life existed upon the earth only in the secondary
period, when a sediment of soil had been deposited by the rivers, and
taken the place of the incandescent rocks of the primitive period."
"Well, Axel, there is a very simple answer to your objection that
this soil is alluvial."
"What! at such a depth below the surface of the earth?"
"No doubt; and there is a geological explanation of the fact. At a
certain period the earth consisted only of an elastic crust or bark,
alternately acted on by forces from above or below, according to the
laws of attraction and gravitation. Probably there were subsidences
of the outer crust, when a portion of the sedimentary deposits was
carried down sudden openings."
"That may be," I replied; "but if there have been creatures now
extinct in these underground regions, why may not some of those
monsters be now roaming through these gloomy forests, or hidden
behind the steep crags?"
And as this unpleasant notion got hold of me, I surveyed with anxious
scrutiny the open spaces before me; but no living creature appeared
upon the barren strand.
I felt rather tired, and went to sit down at the end of a promontory,
at the foot of which the waves came and beat themselves into spray.
Thence my eye could sweep every part of the bay; within its extremity
a little harbour was formed between the pyramidal cliffs, where the
still waters slept untouched by the boisterous winds. A brig and two
or three schooners might have moored within it in safety. I almost
fancied I should presently see some ship issue from it, full sail,
and take to the open sea under the southern breeze.
But this illusion lasted a very short time. We were the only living
creatures in this subterranean world. When the wind lulled, a deeper
silence than that of the deserts fell upon the arid, naked rocks, and
weighed upon the surface of the ocean. I then desired to pierce the
distant haze, and to rend asunder the mysterious curtain that hung
across the horizon. Anxious queries arose to my lips. Where did that
sea terminate? Where did it lead to? Should we ever know anything
about its opposite shores?
My uncle made no doubt about it at all; I both desired and feared.
After spending an hour in the contemplation of this marvellous
spectacle, we returned to the shore to regain the grotto, and I fell
asleep in the midst of the strangest thoughts.