WONDERS OF THE DEEP
On the 13th of August we awoke early. We were now to begin to adopt a
mode of travelling both more expeditious and less fatiguing than
A mast was made of two poles spliced together, a yard was made of a
third, a blanket borrowed from our coverings made a tolerable sail.
There was no want of cordage for the rigging, and everything was well
and firmly made.
The provisions, the baggage, the instruments, the guns, and a good
quantity of fresh water from the rocks around, all found their proper
places on board; and at six the Professor gave the signal to embark.
Hans had fitted up a rudder to steer his vessel. He took the tiller,
and unmoored; the sail was set, and we were soon afloat. At the
moment of leaving the harbour, my uncle, who was tenaciously fond of
naming his new discoveries, wanted to give it a name, and proposed
mine amongst others.
"But I have a better to propose," I said: "Grauben. Let it be called
Port Grauben; it will look very well upon the map."
"Port Grauben let it be then."
And so the cherished remembrance of my Virlandaise became associated
with our adventurous expedition.
The wind was from the north-west. We went with it at a high rate of
speed. The dense atmosphere acted with great force and impelled us
In an hour my uncle had been able to estimate our progress. At this
rate, he said, we shall make thirty leagues in twenty-four hours, and
we shall soon come in sight of the opposite shore.
I made no answer, but went and sat forward. The northern shore was
already beginning to dip under the horizon. The eastern and western
strands spread wide as if to bid us farewell. Before our eyes lay far
and wide a vast sea; shadows of great clouds swept heavily over its
silver-grey surface; the glistening bluish rays of electric light,
here and there reflected by the dancing drops of spray, shot out
little sheaves of light from the track we left in our rear. Soon we
entirely lost sight of land; no object was left for the eye to judge
by, and but for the frothy track of the raft, I might have thought we
were standing still.
About twelve, immense shoals of seaweeds came in sight. I was aware
of the great powers of vegetation that characterise these plants,
which grow at a depth of twelve thousand feet, reproduce themselves
under a pressure of four hundred atmospheres, and sometimes form
barriers strong enough to impede the course of a ship. But never, I
think, were such seaweeds as those which we saw floating in immense
waving lines upon the sea of Liedenbrock.
Our raft skirted the whole length of the fuci, three or four thousand
feet long, undulating like vast serpents beyond the reach of sight; I
found some amusement in tracing these endless waves, always thinking
I should come to the end of them, and for hours my patience was vying
with my surprise.
What natural force could have produced such plants, and what must
have been the appearance of the earth in the first ages of its
formation, when, under the action of heat and moisture, the vegetable
kingdom alone was developing on its surface?
Evening came, and, as on the previous day, I perceived no change in
the luminous condition of the air. It was a constant condition, the
permanency of which might be relied upon.
After supper I laid myself down at the foot of the mast, and fell
asleep in the midst of fantastic reveries.
Hans, keeping fast by the helm, let the raft run on, which, after
all, needed no steering, the wind blowing directly aft.
Since our departure from Port Grauben, Professor Liedenbrock had
entrusted the log to my care; I was to register every observation,
make entries of interesting phenomena, the direction of the wind, the
rate of sailing, the way we made--in a word, every particular of our
I shall therefore reproduce here these daily notes, written, so to
speak, as the course of events directed, in order to furnish an exact
narrative of our passage.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 14.--Wind steady, N.W. The raft makes rapid way in
a direct line. Coast thirty leagues to leeward. Nothing in sight
before us. Intensity of light the same. Weather fine; that is to say,
that the clouds are flying high, are light, and bathed in a white
atmosphere resembling silver in a state of fusion. Therm. 89 deg. Fahr.
At noon Hans prepared a hook at the end of a line. He baited it with
a small piece of meat and flung it into the sea. For two hours
nothing was caught. Are these waters, then, bare of inhabitants? No,
there's a pull at the line. Hans draws it in and brings out a
"A sturgeon," I cried; "a small sturgeon."
The Professor eyes the creature attentively, and his opinion differs
The head of this fish was flat, but rounded in front, and the
anterior part of its body was plated with bony, angular scales; it
had no teeth, its pectoral fins were large, and of tail there was
none. The animal belonged to the same order as the sturgeon, but
differed from that fish in many essential particulars. After a short
examination my uncle pronounced his opinion.
"This fish belongs to an extinct family, of which only fossil traces
are found in the devonian formations."
"What!" I cried. "Have we taken alive an inhabitant of the seas of
"Yes; and you will observe that these fossil fishes have no identity
with any living species. To have in one's possession a living
specimen is a happy event for a naturalist."
"But to what family does it belong?"
"It is of the order of ganoids, of the family of the cephalaspidae;
and a species of pterichthys. But this one displays a peculiarity
confined to all fishes that inhabit subterranean waters. It is blind,
and not only blind, but actually has no eyes at all."
I looked: nothing could be more certain. But supposing it might be a
solitary case, we baited afresh, and threw out our line. Surely this
ocean is well peopled with fish, for in another couple of hours we
took a large quantity of pterichthydes, as well as of others
belonging to the extinct family of the dipterides, but of which my
uncle could not tell the species; none had organs of sight. This
unhoped-for catch recruited our stock of provisions.
Thus it is evident that this sea contains none but species known to
us in their fossil state, in which fishes as well as reptiles are the
less perfectly and completely organised the farther back their date
Perhaps we may yet meet with some of those saurians which science has
reconstructed out of a bit of bone or cartilage. I took up the
telescope and scanned the whole horizon, and found it everywhere a
desert sea. We are far away removed from the shores.
I gaze upward in the air. Why should not some of the strange birds
restored by the immortal Cuvier again flap their 'sail-broad vans' in
this dense and heavy atmosphere? There are sufficient fish for their
support. I survey the whole space that stretches overhead; it is as
desert as the shore was.
Still my imagination carried me away amongst the wonderful
speculations of palaeontology. Though awake I fell into a dream. I
thought I could see floating on the surface of the waters enormous
chelonia, preadamite tortoises, resembling floating islands. Over the
dimly lighted strand there trod the huge mammals of the first ages of
the world, the leptotherium (slender beast), found in the caverns of
Brazil; the merycotherium (ruminating beast), found in the 'drift' of
iceclad Siberia. Farther on, the pachydermatous lophiodon (crested
toothed), a gigantic tapir, hides behind the rocks to dispute its
prey with the anoplotherium (unarmed beast), a strange creature,
which seemed a compound of horse, rhinoceros, camel, and
hippopotamus. The colossal mastodon (nipple-toothed) twists and
untwists his trunk, and brays and pounds with his huge tusks the
fragments of rock that cover the shore; whilst the megatherium (huge
beast), buttressed upon his enormous hinder paws, grubs in the soil,
awaking the sonorous echoes of the granite rocks with his tremendous
roarings. Higher up, the protopitheca--the first monkey that
appeared on the globe--is climbing up the steep ascents. Higher yet,
the pterodactyle (wing-fingered) darts in irregular zigzags to and
fro in the heavy air. In the uppermost regions of the air immense
birds, more powerful than the cassowary, and larger than the ostrich,
spread their vast breadth of wings and strike with their heads the
granite vault that bounds the sky.
All this fossil world rises to life again in my vivid imagination. I
return to the scriptural periods or ages of the world, conventionally
called 'days,' long before the appearance of man, when the unfinished
world was as yet unfitted for his support. Then mydream backed even
farther still into the ages before the creation of living beings. The
mammals disappear, then the birds vanish, then the reptiles of the
secondary period, and finally the fish, the crustaceans, molluscs,
and articulated beings. Then the zoophytes of the transition period
also return to nothing. I am the only living thing in the world: all
life is concentrated in my beating heart alone. There are no more
seasons; climates are no more; the heat of the globe continually
increases and neutralises that of the sun. Vegetation becomes
accelerated. I glide like a shade amongst arborescent ferns, treading
with unsteady feet the coloured marls and the particoloured clays; I
lean for support against the trunks of immense conifers; I lie in the
shade of sphenophylla (wedge-leaved), asterophylla (star-leaved), and
lycopods, a hundred feet high.
Ages seem no more than days! I am passed, against my will, in
retrograde order, through the long series of terrestrial changes.
Plants disappear; granite rocks soften; intense heat converts solid
bodies into thick fluids; the waters again cover the face of the
earth; they boil, they rise in whirling eddies of steam; white and
ghastly mists wrap round the shifting forms of the earth, which by
imperceptible degrees dissolves into a gaseous mass, glowing fiery
red and white, as large and as shining as the sun.
And I myself am floating with wild caprice in the midst of this
nebulous mass of fourteen hundred thousand times the volume of the
earth into which it will one day be condensed, and carried forward
amongst the planetary bodies. My body is no longer firm and
terrestrial; it is resolved into its constituent atoms, subtilised,
volatilised. Sublimed into imponderable vapour, I mingle and am lost
in the endless foods of those vast globular volumes of vaporous
mists, which roll upon their flaming orbits through infinite space.
But is it not a dream? Whither is it carrying me? My feverish hand
has vainly attempted to describe upon paper its strange and wonderful
details. I have forgotten everything that surrounds me. The
Professor, the guide, the raft--are all gone out of my ken. An
illusion has laid hold upon me.
"What is the matter?" my uncle breaks in.
My staring eyes are fixed vacantly upon him.
"Take care, Axel, or you will fall overboard."
At that moment I felt the sinewy hand of Hans seizing me vigorously.
But for him, carried away by my dream, I should have thrown myself
into the sea.
"Is he mad?" cried the Professor.
"What is it all about?" at last I cried, returning to myself.
"Do you feel ill?" my uncle asked.
"No; but I have had a strange hallucination; it is over now. Is all
going on right?"
"Yes, it is a fair wind and a fine sea; we are sailing rapidly along,
and if I am not out in my reckoning, we shall soon land."
At these words I rose and gazed round upon the horizon, still
everywhere bounded by clouds alone.