EXCITING DISCUSSIONS ABOUT AN UNPARALLELED ENTERPRISE
At these words a cold shiver ran through me. Yet I controlled myself;
I even resolved to put a good face upon it. Scientific arguments
alone could have any weight with Professor Liedenbrock. Now there
were good ones against the practicability of such a journey.
Penetrate to the centre of the earth! What nonsense! But I kept my
dialectic battery in reserve for a suitable opportunity, and I
interested myself in the prospect of my dinner, which was not yet
It is no use to tell of the rage and imprecations of my uncle before
the empty table. Explanations were given, Martha was set at liberty,
ran off to the market, and did her part so well that in an hour
afterwards my hunger was appeased, and I was able to return to the
contemplation of the gravity of the situation.
During all dinner time my uncle was almost merry; he indulged in some
of those learned jokes which never do anybody any harm. Dessert over,
he beckoned me into his study.
I obeyed; he sat at one end of his table, I at the other.
"Axel," said he very mildly; "you are a very ingenious young man, you
have done me a splendid service, at a moment when, wearied out with
the struggle, I was going to abandon the contest. Where should I have
lost myself? None can tell. Never, my lad, shall I forget it; and you
shall have your share in the glory to which your discovery will lead."
"Oh, come!" thought I, "he is in a good way. Now is the time for
discussing that same glory."
"Before all things," my uncle resumed, "I enjoin you to preserve the
most inviolable secrecy: you understand? There are not a few in the
scientific world who envy my success, and many would be ready to
undertake this enterprise, to whom our return should be the first
news of it."
"Do you really think there are many people bold enough?" said I.
"Certainly; who would hesitate to acquire such renown? If that
document were divulged, a whole army of geologists would be ready to
rush into the footsteps of Arne Saknussemm."
"I don't feel so very sure of that, uncle," I replied; "for we have
no proof of the authenticity of this document."
"What! not of the book, inside which we have discovered it?"
"Granted. I admit that Saknussemm may have written these lines. But
does it follow that he has really accomplished such a journey? And
may it not be that this old parchment is intended to mislead?"
I almost regretted having uttered this last word, which dropped from
me in an unguarded moment. The Professor bent his shaggy brows, and I
feared I had seriously compromised my own safety. Happily no great
harm came of it. A smile flitted across the lip of my severe
companion, and he answered:
"That is what we shall see."
"Ah!" said I, rather put out. "But do let me exhaust all the possible
objections against this document."
"Speak, my boy, don't be afraid. You are quite at liberty to express
your opinions. You are no longer my nephew only, but my colleague.
Pray go on."
"Well, in the first place, I wish to ask what are this Jokul, this
Sneffels, and this Scartaris, names which I have never heard before?"
"Nothing easier. I received not long ago a map from my friend,
Augustus Petermann, at Liepzig. Nothing could be more apropos. Take
down the third atlas in the second shelf in the large bookcase,
series Z, plate 4."
I rose, and with the help of such precise instructions could not fail
to find the required atlas. My uncle opened it and said:
"Here is one of the best maps of Iceland, that of Handersen, and I
believe this will solve the worst of our difficulties."
I bent over the map.
"You see this volcanic island," said the Professor; "observe that all
the volcanoes are called jokuls, a word which means glacier in
Icelandic, and under the high latitude of Iceland nearly all the
active volcanoes discharge through beds of ice. Hence this term of
jokul is applied to all the eruptive mountains in Iceland."
"Very good," said I; "but what of Sneffels?"
I was hoping that this question would be unanswerable; but I was
mistaken. My uncle replied:
"Follow my finger along the west coast of Iceland. Do you see
Rejkiavik, the capital? You do. Well; ascend the innumerable fiords
that indent those sea-beaten shores, and stop at the sixty-fifth
degree of latitude. What do you see there?"
"I see a peninsula looking like a thigh bone with the knee bone at
the end of it."
"A very fair comparison, my lad. Now do you see anything upon that
"Yes; a mountain rising out of the sea."
"Right. That is Snaefell."
"It is. It is a mountain five thousand feet high, one of the most
remarkable in the world, if its crater leads down to the centre of
"But that is impossible," I said shrugging my shoulders, and
disgusted at such a ridiculous supposition.
"Impossible?" said the Professor severely; "and why, pray?"
"Because this crater is evidently filled with lava and burning rocks,
"But suppose it is an extinct volcano?"
"Yes; the number of active volcanoes on the surface of the globe is
at the present time only about three hundred. But there is a very
much larger number of extinct ones. Now, Snaefell is one of these.
Since historic times there has been but one eruption of this
mountain, that of 1219; from that time it has quieted down more and.
more, and now it is no longer reckoned among active volcanoes."
To such positive statements I could make no reply. I therefore took
refuge in other dark passages of the document.
"What is the meaning of this word Scartaris, and what have the
kalends of July to do with it?"
My uncle took a few minutes to consider. For one short moment I felt
a ray of hope, speedily to be extinguished. For he soon answered thus:
"What is darkness to you is light to me. This proves the ingenious
care with which Saknussemm guarded and defined his discovery.
Sneffels, or Snaefell, has several craters. It was therefore necessary
to point out which of these leads to the centre of the globe. What
did the Icelandic sage do? He observed that at the approach of the
kalends of July, that is to say in the last days of June, one of the
peaks, called Scartaris, flung its shadow down the mouth of that
particular crater, and he committed that fact to his document. Could
there possibly have been a more exact guide? As soon as we have
arrived at the summit of Snaefell we shall have no hesitation as to
the proper road to take."
Decidedly, my uncle had answered every one of my objections. I saw
that his position on the old parchment was impregnable. I therefore
ceased to press him upon that part of the subject, and as above all
things he must be convinced, I passed on to scientific objections,
which in my opinion were far more serious.
"Well, then," I said, "I am forced to admit that Saknussemm's
sentence is clear, and leaves no room for doubt. I will even allow
that the document bears every mark and evidence of authenticity. That
learned philosopher did get to the bottom of Sneffels, he has seen
the shadow of Scartaris touch the edge of the crater before the
kalends of July; he may even have heard the legendary stories told in
his day about that crater reaching to the centre of the world; but as
for reaching it himself, as for performing the journey, and
returning, if he ever went, I say no--he never, never did that."
"Now for your reason?" said my uncle ironically.
"All the theories of science demonstrate such a feat to be
"The theories say that, do they?" replied the Professor in the tone
of a meek disciple. "Oh! unpleasant theories! How the theories will
hinder. us, won't they?"
I saw that he was only laughing at me; but I went on all the same.
"Yes; it is perfectly well known that the internal temperature rises
one degree for every 70 feet in depth; now, admitting this proportion
to be constant, and the radius of the earth being fifteen hundred
leagues, there must be a temperature of 360,032 degrees at the centre
of the earth. Therefore, all the substances that compose the body of
this earth must exist there in a state of incandescent gas; for the
metals that most resist the action of heat, gold, and platinum, and
the hardest rocks, can never be either solid or liquid under such a
temperature. I have therefore good reason for asking if it is
possible to penetrate through such a medium."
"So, Axel, it is the heat that troubles you?"
"Of course it is. Were we to reach a depth of thirty miles we should
have arrived at the limit of the terrestrial crust, for there the
temperature will be more than 2372 degrees."
"Are you afraid of being put into a state of fusion?"
"I will leave you to decide that question," I answered rather
sullenly. "This is my decision," replied Professor Liedenbrock,
putting on one of his grandest airs. "Neither you nor anybody else
knows with any certainty what is going on in the interior of this
globe, since not the twelve thousandth part of its radius is known;
science is eminently perfectible; and every new theory is soon routed
by a newer. Was it not always believed until Fourier that the
temperature of the interplanetary spaces decreased perpetually? and
is it not known at the present time that the greatest cold of the
ethereal regions is never lower than 40 degrees below zero Fahr.? Why
should it not be the same with the internal heat? Why should it not,
at a certain depth, attain an impassable limit, instead of rising to
such a point as to fuse the most infusible metals?"
As my uncle was now taking his stand upon hypotheses, of course,
there was nothing to be said.
"Well, I will tell you that true savants, amongst them Poisson, have
demonstrated that if a heat of 360,000 degrees  existed in the
interior of the globe, the fiery gases arising from the fused matter
would acquire an elastic force which the crust of the earth would be
unable to resist, and that it would explode like the plates of a
"That is Poisson's opinion, my uncle, nothing more."
"Granted. But it is likewise the creed adopted by other distinguished
geologists, that the interior of the globe is neither gas nor water,
nor any of the heaviest minerals known, for in none of these cases
would the earth weigh what it does."
"Oh, with figures you may prove anything!"
"But is it the same with facts! Is it not known that the number of
volcanoes has diminished since the first days of creation? and if
there is central heat may we not thence conclude that it is in
process of diminution?"
"My good uncle, if you will enter into the legion of speculation, I
can discuss the matter no longer."
"But I have to tell you that the highest names have come to the
support of my views. Do you remember a visit paid to me by the
celebrated chemist, Humphry Davy, in 1825?"
"Not at all, for I was not born until nineteen years afterwards."
"Well, Humphry Davy did call upon me on his way through Hamburg. We
were long engaged in discussing, amongst other problems, the
hypothesis of the liquid structure of the terrestrial nucleus. We
were agreed that it could not be in a liquid state, for a reason
which science has never been able to confute."
 The degrees of temperature are given by Jules Verne according to
the centigrade system, for which we will in each case substitute the
Fahrenheit measurement. (Tr.)
"What is that reason?" I said, rather astonished.
"Because this liquid mass would be subject, like the ocean, to the
lunar attraction, and therefore twice every day there would be
internal tides, which, upheaving the terrestrial crust, would cause
"Yet it is evident that the surface of the globe has been subject to
the action of fire," I replied, "and it is quite reasonable to
suppose that the external crust cooled down first, whilst the heat
took refuge down to the centre."
"Quite a mistake," my uncle answered. "The earth has been heated by
combustion on its surface, that is all. Its surface was composed of a
great number of metals, such as potassium and sodium, which have the
peculiar property of igniting at the mere contact with air and water;
these metals kindled when the atmospheric vapours fell in rain upon
the soil; and by and by, when the waters penetrated into the fissures
of the crust of the earth, they broke out into fresh combustion with
explosions and eruptions. Such was the cause of the numerous
volcanoes at the origin of the earth."
"Upon my word, this is a very clever hypothesis," I exclaimed, in
spite rather of myself.
"And which Humphry Davy demonstrated to me by a simple experiment. He
formed a small ball of the metals which I have named, and which was a
very fair representation of our globe; whenever he caused a fine dew
of rain to fall upon its surface, it heaved up into little
monticules, it became oxydized and formed miniature mountains; a
crater broke open at one of its summits; the eruption took place, and
communicated to the whole of the ball such a heat that it could not
be held in the hand."
In truth, I was beginning to be shaken by the Professor's arguments,
besides which he gave additional weight to them by his usual ardour
and fervent enthusiasm.
"You see, Axel," he added, "the condition of the terrestrial nucleus
has given rise to various hypotheses among geologists; there is no
proof at all for this internal heat; my opinion is that there is no
such thing, it cannot be; besides we shall see for ourselves, and,
like Arne Saknussemm, we shall know exactly what to hold as truth
concerning this grand question."
"Very well, we shall see," I replied, feeling myself carried off by
his contagious enthusiasm. "Yes, we shall see; that is, if it is
possible to see anything there."
"And why not? May we not depend upon electric phenomena to give us
light? May we not even expect light from the atmosphere, the pressure
of which may render it luminous as we approach the centre?"
"Yes, yes," said I; "that is possible, too."
"It is certain," exclaimed my uncle in a tone of triumph. "But
silence, do you hear me? silence upon the whole subject; and let no
one get before us in this design of discovering the centre of the