At Last by Charles Kingsley

Transcribed by David Price, email AT LAST: A CHRISTMAS IN THE WEST INDIES TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE HON. SIR ARTHUR GORDON, GOVERNOR OF MAURITIUS My Dear Sir Arthur Gordon, To whom should I dedicate this book, but to you, to whom I owe my visit to the West Indies? I regret that I could
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Transcribed by David Price, email



My Dear Sir Arthur Gordon,

To whom should I dedicate this book, but to you, to whom I owe my visit to the West Indies? I regret that I could not consult you about certain matters in Chapters XIV and XV; but you are away again over sea; and I can only send the book after you, such as it is, with the expression of my hearty belief that you will be to the people of Mauritius what you have been to the people of Trinidad.

I could say much more. But it is wisest often to be most silent on the very points on which one longs most to speak.

Ever yours,



At last we, too, were crossing the Atlantic. At last the dream of forty years, please God, would be fulfilled, and I should see (and happily, not alone) the West Indies and the Spanish Main. From childhood I had studied their Natural History, their charts, their Romances, and alas! their Tragedies; and now, at last, I was about to compare books with facts, and judge for myself of the reported wonders of the Earthly Paradise. We could scarce believe the evidence of our own senses when they told us that we were surely on board a West Indian steamer, and could by no possibility get off it again, save into the ocean, or on the farther side of the ocean; and it was not till the morning of the second day, the 3d of December, that we began to be thoroughly aware that we were on the old route of Westward-Ho, and far out in the high seas, while the Old World lay behind us like a dream.

Like dreams seemed now the last farewells over the taffrel, beneath the chill low December sun; and the shining calm of Southampton water, and the pleasant and well-beloved old shores and woods and houses sliding by; and the fisher-boats at anchor off Calshot, their brown and olive sails reflected in the dun water, with dun clouds overhead tipt with dull red from off the setting sun–a study for Vandevelde or Backhuysen in the tenderest moods. Like a dream seemed the twin lights of Hurst Castle and the Needles, glaring out of the gloom behind us, as if old England were watching us to the last with careful eyes, and bidding us good speed upon our way. Then had come–still like a dream–a day of pouring rain, of lounging on the main-deck, watching the engines, and watching, too (for it was calm at night), the water from the sponson behind the paddle-boxes; as the live flame-beads leaped and ran amid the swirling snow, while some fifteen feet beyond the untouched oily black of the deep sea spread away into the endless dark.

It took a couple of days to arrange our little cabin Penates; to discover who was on board; and a couple of days, too, to become aware, in spite of sudden starts of anxiety, that there was no post, and could be none; that one could not be wanted, or, if one was wanted, found and caught; and it was not till the fourth morning that the glorious sense of freedom dawned on the mind, as through the cabin port the sunrise shone in, yellow and wild through flying showers, and great north-eastern waves raced past us, their heads torn off in spray, their broad backs laced with ripples, and each, as it passed, gave us a friendly onward lift away into the ‘roaring forties,’ as the sailors call the stormy seas between 50 and 40 degrees of latitude.

These ‘roaring forties’ seem all strangely devoid of animal life–at least in a December north-east gale; not a whale did we see–only a pair of porpoises; not a sea-bird, save a lonely little kittiwake or two, who swung round our stern in quest of food: but the seeming want of life was only owing to our want of eyes; each night the wake teemed more bright with flame-atomies. One kind were little brilliant sparks, hurled helpless to and fro on the surface, probably Noctilucae; the others (what they may be we could not guess at first) showed patches of soft diffused light, paler than the sparks, yet of the same yellow-white hue, which floated quietly past, seeming a foot or two below the foam. And at the bottom, far beneath, deeper under our feet than the summit of the Peak of Teneriffe was above our heads–for we were now in more than two thousand fathoms water–what exquisite forms might there not be? myriads on myriads, generations on generations, people the eternal darkness, seen only by Him to whom the darkness is as light as day: and to be seen hereafter, a few of them–but how few–when future men of science shall do for this mid-Atlantic sea-floor what Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Wyville Thomson have done for the North Atlantic, and open one more page of that book which has, to us creatures of a day, though not to Him who wrote it as the Time-pattern of His timeless mind, neither beginning nor end.

So, for want of animal life to study, we were driven to study the human life around us, pent up there in our little iron world. But to talk too much of fellow-passengers is (though usual enough just now) neither altogether fair nor kind. We see in travel but the outside of people, and as we know nothing of their inner history, and little, usually, of their antecedents, the pictures which we might sketch of them would be probably as untruthfully as rashly drawn. Crushed together, too, perforce, against each other, people are apt on board ship to make little hasty confidences, to show unawares little weaknesses, which should be forgotten all round the moment they step on shore and return to something like a normal state of society. The wisest and most humane rule for a traveller toward his companion is to

‘Be to their faults a little blind;
Be to their virtues very kind;’

and to consider all that is said and done on board, like what passes among the members of the same club, as on the whole private and confidential. So let it suffice that there were on board the good steamship Shannon, as was to be expected, plenty of kind, courteous, generous, intelligent people; officials, travellers–one, happy man! away to discover new birds on the yet unexplored Rio Magdalena, in New Grenada; planters, merchants, what not, all ready, when once at St. Thomas’s, to spread themselves over the islands, and the Spanish Main, and the Isthmus of Panama, and after that, some of them, down the Pacific shore to Callao and Valparaiso. The very names of their different destinations, and the imagination of the wonders they would see (though we were going to a spot as full of wonders as any), raised something like envy in our breasts, all the more because most of them persisted in tantalising us, in the hospitable fashion of all West Indians, by fruitless invitations to islands and ports, which to have seen were ‘a joy for ever.’

But almost the most interesting group of all was one of Cornish miners, from the well-known old Redruth and Camborne county, and the old sacred hill of Carn-brea, who were going to seek their fortunes awhile in silver mines among the Andes, leaving wives and children at home, and hoping, ‘if it please God, to do some good out there,’ and send their earnings home. Stout, bearded, high-cheek-boned men they were, dressed in the thick coats and rough caps, and, of course, in the indispensable black cloth trousers, which make a miner’s full dress; and their faces lighted up at the old pass-word of ‘Down-Along’; for whosoever knows Down-Along, and the speech thereof, is at once a friend and a brother. We had many a pleasant talk with them ere we parted at St. Thomas’s.

And on to St. Thomas’s we were hurrying; and, thanks to the north- east wind, as straight as a bee-line. On the third day we ran two hundred and fifty-four miles; on the fourth two hundred and sixty; and on the next day, at noon, where should we be? Nearing the Azores; and by midnight, running past them, and away on the track of Columbus, towards the Sargasso Sea.

We stayed up late on the night of December 7, in hopes of seeing, as we passed Terceira, even the loom of the land: but the moon was down; and a glimpse of the ‘Pico’ at dawn next morning was our only chance of seeing, at least for this voyage, those wondrous Isles of the Blest–Isles of the Blest of old; and why not still? They too are said to be earthly paradises in soil, climate, productions; and yet no English care to settle there, nor even to go thither for health, though the voyage from Lisbon is but a short one, and our own mail steamers, were it made worth their while, could as easily touch at Terceira now as they did a few years since.

And as we looked out into the darkness, we could not but recollect, with a flush of pride, that yonder on the starboard beam lay Flores, and the scene of that great fight off the Azores, on August 30, 1591, made ever memorable by the pen of Walter Raleigh–and of late by Mr. Froude; in which the Revenge, with Sir Richard Grenville for her captain, endured for twelve hours, before she struck, the attack of eight great Spanish armadas, of which two (three times her own burden) sank at her side; and after all her masts were gone, and she had been three times boarded without success, defied to the last the whole fleet of fifty-one sail, which lay around her, waiting, ‘like dogs around the dying forest-king,’ for the Englishman to strike or sink. Yonder away it was, that, wounded again and again, and shot through body and through head, Sir Richard Grenville was taken on board the Spanish Admiral’s ship to die; and gave up his gallant ghost with those once-famous words: ‘Here die I, Richard Grenville, with a joyful and quiet mind; for that I have ended my life as a true soldier ought, fighting for his country, queen, religion, and honour; my soul willingly departing from this body, leaving behind the lasting fame of having behaved as every valiant soldier is in his duty bound to do.’

Yes; we were on the track of the old sea-heroes; of Drake and Hawkins, Carlile and Cavendish, Cumberland and Raleigh, Preston and Sommers, Frobisher and Duddeley, Keymis and Whiddon, which last, in that same Flores fight, stood by Sir Richard Grenville all alone, and, in ‘a small ship called the Pilgrim, hovered all night to see the successe: but in the morning, bearing with the Revenge, was hunted like a hare amongst many ravenous houndes, but escaped’ {4}– to learn, in after years, in company with hapless Keymis, only too much about that Trinidad and Gulf of Paria whither we were bound.

Yes. There were heroes in England in those days. Are we, their descendants, degenerate from them? I, for one, believe not But they were taught–what we take pride in refusing to be taught–namely, to obey.

The morning dawned: but Pico, some fifty miles away, was taking his morning bath among the clouds, and gave no glimpse of his eleven thousand feet crater cone, now capped, they said, with winter snow. Yet neither last night’s outlook nor that morning’s was without result. For as the steamer stopped last night to pack her engines, and slipped along under sail at some three knots an hour, we made out clearly that the larger diffused patches of phosphorescence were Medusae, slowly opening and shutting, and rolling over and over now and then, giving out their light, as they rolled, seemingly from the thin limb alone, and not from the crown of their bell. And as we watched, a fellow-passenger told how, between Ceylon and Singapore, he had once witnessed that most rare and unexplained phenomenon of a ‘milky sea,’ of which Dr. Collingwood writes (without, if I remember right, having seen it himself) in his charming book, A Naturalist’s Rambles in the China Seas. Our friend described the appearance as that of a sea of shining snow rather than of milk, heaving gently beneath a starlit but moonless sky. A bucket of water, when taken up, was filled with the same half-luminous whiteness, which stuck to its sides when the water was drained off. The captain of the Indiaman was well enough aware of the rarity of the sight to call all the passengers on deck to see what they would never see again; and on asking our captain, he assured us that he had not only never seen, but never heard of the appearance in the West Indies. One curious fact, then, was verified that night.

The next morning gave us unmistakable tokens that we were nearing the home of the summer and the sun. A north-east wind, which would in England keep the air at least at freezing in the shade, gave here a temperature just over 60 degrees; and gave clouds, too, which made us fancy for a moment that we were looking at an April thunder sky, soft, fantastic, barred, and feathered, bright white where they ballooned out above into cumuli, rich purple in their massive shadows, and dropping from their under edges long sheets of inky rain. Thanks to the brave North-Easter, we had gained in five days thirty degrees of heat, and had slipped out of December into May. The North-Easter, too, was transforming itself more and more into the likeness of a south-west wind; say, rather, renewing its own youth, and becoming once more what it was when it started on its long journey from the Tropics towards the Pole. As it rushes back across the ocean, thrilled and expanded by the heat, it opens its dry and thirsty lips to suck in the damp from below, till, saturated once more with steam, it will reach the tropic as a gray rain-laden sky of North-East Trade.

So we slipped on, day after day, in a delicious repose which yet was not monotonous. Those, indeed, who complain of the monotony of a voyage must have either very few resources in their own minds, or much worse company than we had on board the Shannon. Here, every hour brought, or might bring, to those who wished, not merely agreeable conversation about the Old World behind us, but fresh valuable information about the New World before us. One morning, for instance, I stumbled on a merchant returning to Surinam, who had fifty things to tell of his own special business–of the woods, the drugs, the barks, the vegetable oils, which he was going back to procure–a whole new world of yet unknown wealth and use. Most cheering, too, and somewhat unexpected, were the facts we heard of the improving state of our West India Colonies, in which the tide of fortune seems to have turned at last, and the gallant race of planters and merchants, in spite of obstacle on obstacle, some of them unjust and undeserved, are winning their way back (in their own opinion) to a prosperity more sound and lasting than that which collapsed so suddenly at the end of the great French war. All spoke of the emancipation of the slaves in Cuba (an event certain to come to pass ere long) as the only condition which they required to put them on an equal footing with any producers whatsoever in the New World.

However pleasant, though, the conversation might be, the smallest change in external circumstances, the least break in the perpetual–

‘Quocumque adspicias, nil est nisi pontus et aer,’

even a passing bird, if one would pass, which none would do save once or twice a stately tropic-bird, wheeling round aloft like an eagle, was hailed as an event in the day; and, on the 9th of December, the appearance of the first fragments of gulf-weed caused quite a little excitement, and set an enthusiastic pair of naturalists–a midland hunting squire, and a travelled scientific doctor who had been twelve years in the Eastern Archipelago–fishing eagerly over the bows, with an extemporised grapple of wire, for gulf-weed, a specimen of which they did not catch. However, more and more still would come in a day or two, perhaps whole acres, even whole leagues, and then (so we hoped, but hoped in vain) we should have our feast of zoophytes, crustacea, and what not.

Meanwhile, it must be remembered that this gulf-weed has not, as some of the uninitiated fancy from its name, anything to do with the Gulf Stream, along the southern edge of which we were steaming. Thrust away to the south by that great ocean-river, it lies in a vast eddy, or central pool of the Atlantic, between the Gulf Stream and the equatorial current, unmoved save by surface-drifts of wind, as floating weeds collect and range slowly round and round in the still corners of a tumbling-bay or salmon pool. One glance at a bit of the weed, as it floats past, showed that it is like no Fucus of our shores, or anything we ever saw before. The difference of look is undefinable in words, but clear enough. One sees in a moment that the Sargassos, of which there are several species on Tropical shores, are a genus of themselves and by themselves; and a certain awe may, if the beholder be at once scientific and poetical, come over him at the first sight of this famous and unique variety thereof, which has lost ages since the habit of growing on rock or sea-bottom, but propagates itself for ever floating; and feeds among its branches a whole family of fish, crabs, cuttlefish, zoophytes, mollusks, which, like the plant which shelters them, are found nowhere else in the world. And that awe, springing from ‘the scientific use of the imagination,’ would be increased if he recollected the theory–not altogether impossible–that this sargasso (and possibly some of the animals which cling to it) marks the site of an Atlantic continent, sunk long ages since; and that, transformed by the necessities of life from a rooting to a floating plant,

‘Still it remembers its august abodes,’

and wanders round and round as if in search of the rocks where it once grew. We looked eagerly day by day for more and more gulf- weed, hoping that

‘Slimy things would crawl with legs
Upon that slimy sea,’

and thought of the memorable day when Columbus’s ship first plunged her bows into the tangled ‘ocean meadow,’ and the sailors, naturally enough, were ready to mutiny, fearing hidden shoals, ignorant that they had four miles of blue water beneath their keel, and half recollecting old Greek and Phoenician legends of a weedy sea off the coast of Africa, where the vegetation stopped the ships and kept them entangled till all on board were starved.

Day after day we passed more and more of it, often in long processions, ranged in the direction of the wind; while, a few feet below the surface, here and there floated large fronds of a lettuce- like weed, seemingly an ulva, the bright green of which, as well as the rich orange hue of the sargasso, brought out by contrast the intense blue of the water.

Very remarkable, meanwhile, and unexpected, was the opacity and seeming solidity of the ocean when looked down on from the bows. Whether sapphire under the sunlight, or all but black under the clouds, or laced and streaked with beads of foam, rising out of the nether darkness, it looks as if it could resist the hand; as if one might almost walk on it; so unlike any liquid, as seen near shore or inland, is this leaping, heaving plain, reminding one, by its innumerable conchoidal curves, not of water, not even of ice, but rather of obsidian.

After all we got little of the sargasso. Only in a sailing ship, and in calms or light breezes, can its treasures be explored. Twelve knots an hour is a pace sufficient to tear off the weed, as it is hauled alongside, all living things which are not rooted to it. We got, therefore, no Crustacea; neither did we get a single specimen of the Calamaries, {8} which may be described as cuttlefish carrying hooks on their arms as well as suckers, the lingering descendants of a most ancient form, which existed at least as far back as the era of the shallow oolitic seas, x or y thousand years ago. A tiny curled Spirorbis, a Lepraria, with its thousandfold cells, and a tiny polype belonging to the Campanularias, with a creeping stem, which sends up here and there a yellow-stalked bell, were all the parasites we saw. But the sargasso itself is a curious instance of the fashion in which one form so often mimics another of a quite different family. When fresh out of the water it resembles not a sea-weed so much as a sprig of some willow-leaved shrub, burdened with yellow berries, large and small; for every broken bit of it seems growing, and throwing out ever new berries and leaves– or what, for want of a better word, must be called leaves in a sea- weed. For it must be remembered that the frond of a sea-weed is not merely leaf, but root also; that it not only breathes air, but feeds on water; and that even the so-called root by which a sea-weed holds to the rock is really only an anchor, holding mechanically to the stone, but not deriving, as the root of a land-plant would, any nourishment from it. Therefore it is, that to grow while uprooted and floating, though impossible to most land plants, is easy enough to many sea-weeds, and especially to the sargasso.

The flying-fish now began to be a source of continual amusement as they scuttled away from under the bows of the ship, mistaking her, probably, for some huge devouring whale. So strange are they when first seen, though long read of and long looked for, that it is difficult to recollect that they are actually fish. The first little one was mistaken for a dragon-fly, the first big one for a gray plover. The flight is almost exactly like that of a quail or partridge–flight, I must say; for, in spite of all that has been learnedly written to the contrary, it was too difficult as yet for the English sportsmen on board to believe that their motion was not a true flight, aided by the vibration of the wings, and not a mere impulse given (as in the leap of the salmon) by a rush under water. That they can change their course at will is plain to one who looks down on them from the lofty deck, and still more from the paddle- box. The length of the flight seems too great to be attributed to a few strokes of the tail; while the plain fact that they renew their flight after touching, and only touching, the surface, would seem to show that it was not due only to the original impetus, for that would be retarded, instead of being quickened, every time they touched. Such were our first impressions: and they were confirmed by what we saw on the voyage home.

The nights as yet, we will not say disappointed us,–for to see new stars, like Canopus and Fomalhaut, shining in the far south, even to see Sirius, in his ever-changing blaze of red and blue, riding high in a December heaven, is interesting enough; but the brilliance of the stars is not, at least at this season, equal to that of a frosty sky in England. Nevertheless, to make up for the deficiency, the clouds were glorious; so glorious, that I longed again and again, as I did afterwards in the West Indies, that Mr. Ruskin were by my side, to see and to describe, as none but he can do. The evening skies are fit weeds for widowed Eos weeping over the dying Sun; thin, formless, rent–in carelessness, not in rage; and of all the hues of early autumn leaves, purple and brown, with green and primrose lakes of air between: but all hues weakened, mingled, chastened into loneliness, tenderness, regretfulness, through which still shines, in endless vistas of clear western light, the hope of the returning day. More and more faint, the pageant fades below towards the white haze of the horizon, where, in sharpest contrast, leaps and welters against it the black jagged sea; and richer and richer it glows upwards, till it cuts the azure overhead: until, only too soon–

‘The sun’s rim dips, the stars rush out, At one stride comes the dark,’

to be succeeded, after the long balmy night, by a sunrise which repeats the colours of the sunset, but this time gaudy, dazzling, triumphant, as befits the season of faith and hope. Such imagery, it may be said, is hackneyed now, and trite even to impertinence. It might be so at home; but here, in presence of the magnificent pageant of tropic sunlight, it is natural, almost inevitable; and the old myth of the daily birth and death of Helios, and the bridal joys and widowed tears of Eos, re-invents itself in the human mind, as soon as it asserts its power–it may be, its sacred right–to translate nature into the language of the feelings.

And, meanwhile, may we not ask–have we not a right–founded on that common sense of the heart which often is the deepest reason–to ask, If we, gross and purblind mortals, can perceive and sympathise with so much beauty in the universe, then how much must not He perceive, with how much must not He sympathise, for whose pleasure all things are, and were created? Who that believes (and rightly) the sense of beauty to be among the noblest faculties of man, will deny that faculty to God, who conceived man and all besides?

Wednesday, the 15th, was a really tropic day; blazing heat in the forenoon, with the thermometer at 82 degrees in the shade, and in the afternoon stifling clouds from the south-west, where a dark band of rain showed, according to the planters’ dictum, showers over the islands, which we were nearing fast. At noon we were only two hundred and ten miles from Sombrero, ‘the Spanish Hat,’ a lonely island, which is here the first outlier of the New World. We ought to have passed it by sunrise on the 16th, and by the afternoon reached St. Thomas’s, where our pleasant party would burst like a shell in all directions, and scatter its fragments about all coasts and isles–from Demerara to Panama, from Mexico to the Bahamas. So that day was to the crew a day of hard hot work–of lifting and sorting goods on the main-deck, in readiness for the arrival at St. Thomas’s, and of moving forwards two huge empty boilers which had graced our spar-deck, filled with barrels of onions and potatoes, all the way from Southampton. But in the soft hot evening hours, time was found for the usual dance on the quarter-deck, with the band under the awning, and lamps throwing fantastic shadows, and waltzing couples, and the crew clustering aft to see, while we old folks looked on, with our ‘Ludite dum lubet, pueri,’ till the captain bade the sergeant-at-arms leave the lights burning for an extra half hour; and ‘Sir Roger de Coverley’ was danced out, to the great amusement of the foreigners, at actually half-past eleven. After which unexampled dissipation, all went off to rest, promising to themselves and their partners that they would get up at sunrise to sight Sombrero.

But, as it befell, morning’s waking brought only darkness, the heavy pattering of a tropic shower, and the absence of the everlasting roll of the paddle-wheels. We were crawling slowly along, in thick haze and heavy rain, having passed Sombrero unseen; and were away in a gray shoreless world of waters, looking out for Virgin Gorda; the first of those numberless isles which Columbus, so goes the tale, discovered on St. Ursula’s day, and named them after the Saint and her eleven thousand mythical virgins. Unfortunately, English buccaneers have since then given to most of them less poetic names. The Dutchman’s Cap, Broken Jerusalem, The Dead Man’s Chest, Rum Island, and so forth, mark a time and a race more prosaic, but still more terrible, though not one whit more wicked and brutal, than the Spanish Conquistadores, whose descendants, in the seventeenth century, they smote hip and thigh with great destruction.

The farthest of these Virgin Islands is St. Thomas’s. And there ended the first and longer part of a voyage unmarred by the least discomfort, discourtesy, or dulness, and full of enjoyment, for which thanks are due alike to captain, officers, crew, and passengers, and also to our much-maligned friend the North-East wind, who caught us up in the chops of the Channel, helped us graciously on nearly to the tropic of Cancer, giving us a more prosperous passage than the oldest hands recollect at this season, and then left us for a while to the delicious calms of the edge of the tropic, to catch us up again as the North-East Trade.

Truly, this voyage had already given us much for which to thank God. If safety and returning health, in an atmosphere in which the mere act of breathing is a pleasure, be things for which to be thankful, then we had reason to say in our hearts that which is sometimes best unsaid on paper.

Our first day in a tropic harbour was spent in what might be taken at moments for a dream, did not shells and flowers remain to bear witness to its reality. It was on Friday morning, December 17th, that we first sighted the New World; a rounded hill some fifteen hundred feet high, which was the end of Virgin Gorda. That resolved itself, as we ran on, into a cluster of long, low islands; St. John’s appearing next on the horizon, then Tortola, and last of all St. Thomas’s; all pink and purple in the sun, and warm-gray in the shadow, which again became, as we neared them one after the other, richest green, of scrub and down, with bright yellow and rusty rocks, plainly lava, in low cliffs along the shore. The upper outline of the hills reminded me, with its multitudinous little coves and dry gullies, of the Vivarais or Auvergne Hills; and still more of the sketches of the Chinese Tea-mountains in Fortune’s book. Their water-line has been exposed, evidently for many ages, to the gnawing of the sea at the present level. Everywhere the lava cliffs are freshly broken, toppling down in dust and boulders, and leaving detached stacks and skerries, like that called the ‘Indians,’ from its supposed likeness to a group of red-brown savages afloat in a canoe. But, as far as I could see, there has been no upheaval since the land took its present shape. There is no trace of raised beaches, or of the terraces which would have inevitably been formed by upheaval on the soft sides of the lava hills. The numberless deep channels which part the isles and islets would rather mark depression still going on. Most beautiful meanwhile are the winding channels of blue water, like land-locked lakes, which part the Virgins from each other; and beautiful the white triangular sails of the canoe-rigged craft, which beat up and down them through strong currents and cockling seas. The clear air, the still soft outlines, the rich and yet delicate colouring, stir up a sense of purity and freshness, and peace and cheerfulness, such as is stirred up by certain views of the Mediterranean and its shores; only broken by one ghastly sight–the lonely mast of the ill-fated Rhone, standing up still where she sank with all her crew, in the hurricane of 1867.

At length, in the afternoon, we neared the last point, and turning inside an isolated and crumbling hummock, the Dutchman’s Cap, saw before us, at the head of a little narrow harbour, the scarlet and purple roofs of St. Thomas’s, piled up among orange-trees, at the foot of a green corrie, or rather couple of corries, some eight hundred feet high. There it was, as veritable a Dutch-oven for cooking fever in, with as veritable a dripping-pan for the poison when concocted in the tideless basin below the town, as man ever invented. And we were not sorry when the superintendent, coming on board, bade us steam back again out of the port, and round a certain Water-island, at the back of which is a second and healthier harbour, the Gri-gri channel. In the port close to the town we could discern another token of the late famous hurricane, the funnels and masts of the hapless Columbia, which lies still on the top of the sunken floating clock, immovable, as yet, by the art of man.

But some hundred yards on our right was a low cliff, which was even more interesting to some of us than either the town or the wreck; for it was covered with the first tropic vegetation which we had ever seen. Already on a sandy beach outside, we had caught sight of unmistakable coconut trees; some of them, however, dying, dead, even snapped short off, either by the force of the hurricane, or by the ravages of the beetle, which seems minded of late years to exterminate the coconut throughout the West Indies; belonging, we are told, to the Elaters–fire-fly, or skipjack beetles. His grub, like that of his cousin, our English wire-worm, and his nearer cousin, the great wire-worm of the sugar-cane, eats into the pith and marrow of growing shoots; and as the palm, being an endogen, increases from within by one bud, and therefore by one shoot only, when that is eaten out nothing remains for the tree but to die. And so it happens that almost every coconut grove which we have seen has a sad and shabby look as if it existed (which it really does) merely on sufferance.

But on this cliff we could see, even with the naked eye, tall Aloes, gray-blue Cerei like huge branching candelabra, and bushes the foliage of which was utterly unlike anything in Northern Europe; while above the bright deep green of a patch of Guinea-grass marked cultivation, and a few fruit trees round a cottage told, by their dark baylike foliage, of fruits whose names alone were known to us.

Round Water-island we went, into a narrow channel between steep green hills, covered to their tops, as late as 1845, with sugar- cane, but now only with scrub, among which the ruins of mills and buildings stood sad and lonely. But Nature in this land of perpetual summer hides with a kind of eagerness every scar which man in his clumsiness leaves on the earth’s surface; and all, though relapsing into primeval wildness, was green, soft, luxuriant, as if the hoe had never torn the ground, contrasting strangely with the water-scene; with the black steamers snorting in their sleep; the wrecks and condemned hulks, in process of breaking up, strewing the shores with their timbers; the boatfuls of Negroes gliding to and fro; and all the signs of our hasty, irreverent, wasteful, semi- barbarous mercantile system, which we call (for the time being only, it is to be hoped) civilisation. The engine had hardly stopped, when we were boarded from a fleet of negro boats, and huge bunches of plantains, yams, green oranges, junks of sugar-cane, were displayed upon the deck; and more than one of the ladies went through the ceremony of initiation into West Indian ways, which consisted in sucking sugar-cane, first pared for the sake of their teeth. The Negro’s stronger incisors tear it without paring. Two amusing figures, meanwhile, had taken up their station close to the companion. Evidently privileged personages, they felt themselves on their own ground, and looked round patronisingly on the passengers, as ignorant foreigners who were too certain to be tempted by the treasures which they displayed to need any solicitations. One went by the name of Jamaica Joe, a Negro blacker than the night, in smart white coat and smart black trousers; a tall courtly gentleman, with the organ of self-interest, to judge from his physiognomy, very highly developed. But he was thrown into the shade by a stately brown lady, who was still very handsome–beautiful, if you will–and knew it, and had put on her gorgeous turban with grace, and plaited her short locks under it with care, and ignored the very existence of a mere Negro like Jamaica Joe, as she sat by her cigars, and slow-match, and eau-de-cologne at four times the right price, and mats, necklaces, bracelets, made of mimosa-seeds, white negro hats, nests of Curacoa baskets, and so forth. They drove a thriving trade among all newcomers: but were somewhat disgusted to find that we, though new to the West Indies, were by no means new to West Indian wares, and therefore not of the same mind as a gentleman and lady who came fresh from the town next day, with nearly a bushel of white branching madrepores, which they were going to carry as coals to Newcastle, six hundred miles down the islands. Poor Joe tried to sell us a nest of Curacoa baskets for seven shillings; retired after a firm refusal; came up again to R—–, after a couple of hours, and said, in a melancholy and reproachful voice, ‘Da— take dem for four shillings and sixpence. I give dem you.’

But now–. Would we go on shore? To the town? Not we, who came to see Nature, not towns. Some went off on honest business; some on such pleasure as can be found in baking streets, hotel bars, and billiard-rooms: but the one place on which our eyes were set was a little cove a quarter of a mile off, under the steep hill, where a white line of sand shone between blue water and green wood. A few yards broad of sand, and then impenetrable jungle, among which we could see, below, the curved yellow stems of the coconuts; and higher up the straight gray stems and broad fan-leaves of Carat palms; which I regret to say we did not reach. Oh for a boat to get into that paradise! There was three-quarters of an hour left, between dinner and dark; and in three-quarters of an hour what might not be seen in a world where all was new? The kind chief officer, bidding us not trust negro boats on such a trip, lent us one of the ship’s, with four honest fellows, thankful enough to escape from heat and smoke; and away we went with two select companions–the sportsman and our scientific friend–to land, for the first time, in the New World.

As we leaped on shore on that white sand, what feelings passed through the heart of at least one of us, who found the dream of forty years translated into fact at last, are best, perhaps, left untold here. But it must be confessed that ere we had stood for two minutes staring at the green wall opposite us, astonishment soon swallowed up, for the time, all other emotions. Astonishment, not at the vast size of anything, for the scrub was not thirty feet high; nor at the gorgeous colours, for very few plants or trees were in flower; but at the wonderful wealth of life. The massiveness, the strangeness, the variety, the very length of the young and still growing shoots was a wonder. We tried, at first in vain, to fix our eyes on some one dominant or typical form, while every form was clamouring, as it were, to be looked at, and a fresh Dryad gazed out of every bush and with wooing eyes asked to be wooed again. The first two plants, perhaps, we looked steadily at were the Ipomoea pes caprae, lying along the sand in straight shoots thirty feet long, and growing longer, we fancied, while we looked at it, with large bilobed green leaves at every joint, and here and there a great purple convolvulus flower; and next, what we knew at once for the ‘shore-grape.’ {15a} We had fancied it (and correctly) to be a mere low bushy tree with roundish leaves. But what a bush! with drooping boughs, arched over and through each other, shoots already six feet long, leaves as big as the hand shining like dark velvet, a crimson mid-rib down each, and tiled over each other–‘imbricated,’ as the botanists would say, in that fashion, which gives its peculiar solidity and richness of light and shade to the foliage of an old sycamore; and among these noble shoots and noble leaves, pendent everywhere, long tapering spires of green grapes. This shore-grape, which the West Indians esteem as we might a bramble, we found to be, without exception, the most beautiful broad-leafed plant which we had ever seen. Then we admired the Frangipani, {15b} a tall and almost leafless shrub with thick fleshy shoots, bearing, in this species, white flowers, which have the fragrance peculiar to certain white blossoms, to the jessamine, the tuberose, the orange, the Gardenia, the night-flowering Cereus; then the Cacti and Aloes; then the first coconut, with its last year’s leaves pale yellow, its new leaves deep green, and its trunk ringing, when struck, like metal; then the sensitive plants; then creeping lianes of a dozen different kinds. Then we shrank back from our first glimpse of a little swamp of foul brown water, backed up by the sand-brush, with trees in every stage of decay, fallen and tangled into a doleful thicket, through which the spider-legged Mangroves rose on stilted roots. We turned, in wholesome dread, to the white beach outside, and picked up–and, alas! wreck, everywhere wreck–shells–old friends in the cabinets at home–as earnests to ourselves that all was not a dream: delicate prickly Pinnae; ‘Noah’s-arks’ in abundance; great Strombi, their lips and outer shell broken away, disclosing the rosy cameo within, and looking on the rough beach pitifully tender and flesh-like; lumps and fragments of coral innumerable, reminding us by their worn and rounded shapes of those which abound in so many secondary strata; and then hastened on board the boat; for the sun had already fallen, the purple night set in, and from the woods on shore a chorus of frogs had commenced chattering, quacking, squealing, whistling, not to cease till sunrise.

So ended our first trip in the New World; and we got back to the ship, but not to sleep. Already a coal-barge lay on either side of her, and over the coals we scrambled, through a scene which we would fain forget. Black women on one side were doing men’s work, with heavy coal-baskets on their heads, amid screaming, chattering, and language of which, happily, we understood little or nothing. On the other, a gang of men and boys, who, as the night fell, worked, many of them, altogether naked, their glossy bronze figures gleaming in the red lamplight, and both men and women singing over their work in wild choruses, which, when the screaming cracked voices of the women were silent, and the really rich tenors of the men had it to themselves, were not unpleasant. A lad, seeming the poet of the gang, stood on the sponson, and in the momentary intervals of work improvised some story, while the men below took up and finished each verse with a refrain, piercing, sad, running up and down large and easy intervals. The tunes were many and seemingly familiar, all barbaric, often ending in the minor key, and reminding us much, perhaps too much, of the old Gregorian tones. The words were all but unintelligible. In one song we caught ‘New York’ again and again, and then ‘Captain he heard it, he was troubled in him mind.’

‘Ya-he-ho-o-hu’–followed the chorus.

‘Captain he go to him cabin, he drink him wine and whisky–‘

‘Ya-he,’ etc.

‘You go to America? You as well go to heaven.’

‘Ya-he,’ etc.

These were all the scraps of negro poetry which we could overhear; while on deck the band was playing quadrilles and waltzes, setting the negro shoveller dancing in the black water at the barge-bottom, shovel in hand; and pleasant white folks danced under the awning, till the contrast between the refinement within and the brutality without became very painful. For brutality it was, not merely in the eyes of the sentimentalist, but in those of the moralist; still more in the eyes of those who try to believe that all God’s human children may be some-when, somewhere, somehow, reformed into His likeness. We were shocked to hear that at another island the evils of coaling are still worse; and that the white authorities have tried in vain to keep them down. The coaling system is, no doubt, demoralising in itself, as it enables Negroes of the lowest class to earn enough in one day to keep them in idleness, even in luxury, for a week or more, till the arrival of the next steamer. But what we saw proceeded rather from the mere excitability and coarseness of half-civilised creatures than from any deliberate depravity; and we were told that, in the island just mentioned, the Negroes, when forced to coal on Sunday, or on Christmas Day, always abstain from noise or foul language, and, if they sing, sing nothing but hymns. It is easy to sneer at such a fashion as formalism. It would be wiser to consider whether the first step in religious training must not be obedience to some such external positive law; whether the savage must not be taught that there are certain things which he ought never to do, by being taught that there is one day at least on which he shall not do them. How else is man to learn that the Laws of Right and Wrong, like the laws of the physical world, are entirely independent of him, his likes or dislikes, knowledge or ignorance of them; that by Law he is environed from his cradle to his grave, and that it is at his own peril that he disobeys the Law? A higher religion may, and ought to, follow, one in which the Law becomes a Law of Liberty, and a Gospel, because it is loved, and obeyed for its own sake; but even he who has attained to that must be reminded again and again, alas! that the Law which he loves does not depend for its sanction on his love of it, on his passing frames or feelings; but is as awfully independent of him as it is of the veriest heathen. And that lesson the Sabbath does teach as few or no other institutions can. The man who says, and says rightly, that to the Christian all days ought to be Sabbaths, may be answered, and answered rightly, ‘All the more reason for keeping one day which shall be a Sabbath, whether you are in a sabbatical mood or not. All the more reason for keeping one day holy, as a pattern of what all days should be.’ So we will be glad if the Negro has got thus far, as an earnest that he may some day get farther still.

That night, however, he kept no Sabbath, and we got no sleep; and were glad enough, before sunrise, to escape once more to the cove we had visited the evening before; not that it was prettier or more curious than others, but simply because it is better, for those who wish to learn accurately, to see one thing twice than many things once. A lesson is never learnt till it is learnt over many times, and a spot is best understood by staying in it and mastering it. In natural history the old scholar’s saw of ‘Cave hominem unius libri’ may be paraphrased by ‘He is a thoroughly good naturalist who knows one parish thoroughly.’

So back to our little beach we went, and walked it all over again, finding, of course, many things which had escaped us the night before. We saw our first Melocactus, and our first night-blowing Cereus creeping over the rocks. We found our first tropic orchid, with white, lilac, and purple flowers on a stalk three feet high. We saw our first wild pines (Tillandsias, etc.) clinging parasitic on the boughs of strange trees, or nestling among the angular limb- like shoots of the columnar Cereus. We learnt to distinguish the poisonous Manchineel; and were thankful, in serious earnest, that we had happily plucked none the night before, when we were snatching at every new leaf; for its milky juice, by mere dropping on the skin, burns like the poisoned tunic of Nessus, and will even, when the head is injured by it, cause blindness and death. We gathered a nosegay of the loveliest flowers, under a burning sun, within ten days of Christmas; and then wandered off the shore up a little path in the red lava, toward a farm where we expected to see fresh curiosities, and not in vain. On one side of the path a hedge of Pinguin (Bromelia)–the plants like huge pine-apple plants without the fruit–was but three feet high, but from its prickles utterly impenetrable to man or beast; and inside the hedge, a tree like a straggling pear, with huge green calabashes growing out of its bark- -here was actually Crescentia Cujete–the plaything of one’s childhood–alive and growing. The other side was low scrub–prickly shrubs like acacias and mimosas, covered with a creeping vine with brilliant yellow hair (we had seen it already from the ship, gilding large patches of the slopes), most like European dodder. Among it rose the tall Calotropis procera, with its fleshy gray stems and leaves, and its azure of lovely lilac flowers, with curious columns of stamens in each–an Asclepiad introduced from the Old World, where it ranges from tropical Africa to Afghanistan; and so on, and so on, up to a little farmyard, very like a Highland one in most things, want of neatness included, save that huge spotted Trochi were scattered before the door, instead of buckies or periwinkles; and in the midst of the yard grew, side by side, the common accompaniment of a West India kitchen door, the magic trees, whose leaves rubbed on the toughest meat make it tender on the spot, and whose fruit makes the best of sauce or pickle to be eaten therewith- -namely, a male and female Papaw (Carica Papaya), their stems some fifteen feet high, with a flat crown of mallow-like leaves, just beneath which, in the male, grew clusters of fragrant flowerets, in the female, clusters of unripe fruit. On through the farmyard, picking fresh flowers at every step, and down to a shady cove (for the sun, even at eight o’clock in December, was becoming uncomfortably fierce), and again into the shore-grape wood. We had already discovered, to our pain, that almost everything in the bush had prickles, of all imaginable shapes and sizes; and now, touching a low tree, one of our party was seized as by a briar, through clothes and into skin, and, in escaping, found on the tree (Guilandina, Bonducella) rounded prickly pods, which, being opened, proved to contain the gray horse-nicker-beads of our childhood.

Up and down the white sand we wandered, collecting shells, as did the sailors, gladly enough, and then rowed back, over a bottom of white sand, bedded here and there with the short manati-grass (Thalassia Testudinum), one of the few flowering plants which, like our Zostera, or grass-wrack, grows at the bottom of the sea. But, wherever the bottom was stony, we could see huge prickly sea- urchins, huger brainstone corals, round and gray, and branching corals likewise, such as, when cleaned, may be seen in any curiosity shop. These, and a flock of brown and gray pelicans sailing over our head, were fresh tokens to us of where we were.

As we were displaying our nosegay on deck, on our return, to some who had stayed stifling on board, and who were inclined (as West Indians are) at once to envy and to pooh-pooh the superfluous energy of newcome Europeans, R—– drew out a large and lovely flower, pale yellow, with a tiny green apple or two, and leaves like those of an Oleander. The brown lady, who was again at her post on deck, walked up to her in silence, uninvited, and with a commanding air waved the thing away. ‘Dat manchineel. Dat poison. Throw dat overboard.’ R—–, who knew it was not manchineel, whispered to a bystander, ‘Ce n’est pas vrai.’ But the brown lady was a linguist. ‘Ah! mais c’est vrai,’ cried she, with flashing teeth; and retired, muttering her contempt of English ignorance and impertinence.

And, as it befell, she was, if not quite right, at least not quite wrong. For when we went into the cabin, we and our unlucky yellow flower were flown at by another brown lady, in another gorgeous turban, who had become on the voyage a friend and an intimate; for she was the nurse of the baby who had been the light of the eyes of the whole quarter-deck ever since we left Southampton–God bless it, and its mother, and beautiful Mon Nid, where she dwells beneath the rock, as exquisite as one of her own humming-birds. We were so scolded about this poor little green apple that we set to work to find put what it was, after promising at least not to eat it. And it proved to be Thevetia neriifolia, and a very deadly poison.

This was the first (though by no means the last) warning which we got not to meddle rashly with ‘poison-bush,’ lest that should befall us which befell a scientific West Indian of old. For hearing much of the edible properties of certain European toadstools, he resolved to try a few experiments in his own person on West Indian ones; during the course of which he found himself one evening, after a good toad-stool dinner, raving mad. The doctor was sent for, and brought him round, a humbled man. But a heavier humiliation awaited him, when his negro butler, who had long looked down on him for his botanical studies, entered with his morning cup of coffee. ‘Now, Massa,’ said he, in a tone of triumphant pity, ‘I think you no go out any more cut bush and eat him.’

If we had wanted any further proof that we were in the Tropics, we might have had it in the fearful heat of the next few hours, when the Shannon lay with a steamer on each side, one destined for ‘The Gulf,’ the other for ‘The Islands’; and not a breath of air was to be got till late in the afternoon, when (amid shaking of hands and waving of handkerchiefs, as hearty as if we the ‘Island-bound,’ and they the ‘Gulf-bound,’ and the officers of the Shannon had known each other fourteen years instead of fourteen days) we steamed out, past the Little Saba rock, which was said (but it seems incorrectly) to have burst into smoke and flame during the earthquake, and then away to the south and east for the Islands: having had our first taste, but, thank God, not our last, of the joys of the ‘Earthly Paradise.’


I had heard and read much, from boyhood, about these ‘Lesser Antilles.’ I had pictured them to myself a thousand times: but I was altogether unprepared for their beauty and grandeur. For hundreds of miles, day after day, the steamer carried us past a shifting diorama of scenery, which may be likened to Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples, repeated again and again, with every possible variation of the same type of delicate loveliness.

Under a cloudless sky, upon a sea, lively yet not unpleasantly rough, we thrashed and leaped along. Ahead of us, one after another, rose high on the southern horizon banks of gray cloud, from under each of which, as we neared it, descended the shoulder of a mighty mountain, dim and gray. Nearer still the gray changed to purple; lowlands rose out of the sea, sloping upwards with those grand and simple concave curves which betoken, almost always, volcanic land. Nearer still, the purple changed to green. Tall palm-trees and engine-houses stood out against the sky; the surf gleamed white around the base of isolated rocks. A little nearer, and we were under the lee, or western side, of the island. The sea grew smooth as glass; we entered the shade of the island-cloud, and slid along in still unfathomable blue water, close under the shore of what should have been one of the Islands of the Blest.

It was easy, in presence of such scenery, to conceive the exaltation which possessed the souls of the first discoverers of the West Indies. What wonder if they seemed to themselves to have burst into Fairyland–to be at the gates of The Earthly Paradise? With such a climate, such a soil, such vegetation, such fruits, what luxury must not have seemed possible to the dwellers along those shores? What riches too, of gold and jewels, might not be hidden among those forest-shrouded glens and peaks? And beyond, and beyond again, ever new islands, new continents perhaps, an inexhaustible wealth of yet undiscovered worlds.

No wonder that the men rose above themselves, for good and for evil; that having, as it seemed to them, found infinitely, they hoped infinitely, and dared infinitely. They were a dumb generation and an unlettered, those old Conquistadores. They did not, as we do now, analyse and describe their own impressions: but they felt them nevertheless; and felt them, it may be, all the more intensely, because they could not utter them; and so went, half intoxicated, by day and night, with the beauty and the wonder round them, till the excitement overpowered alike their reason and their conscience; and, frenzied with superstition and greed, with contempt and hatred of the heathen Indians, and often with mere drink and sunshine, they did deeds which, like all wicked deeds, avenge themselves, and are avenging themselves, from Mexico to Chili, unto this very day.

I said that these islands resembled Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples. Like causes have produced like effects; and each island is little but the peak of a volcano, down whose shoulders lava and ash have slidden toward the sea. Some carry several crater cones, complicating at once the structure and scenery of the island; but the majority carry but a single cone, like that little island, or rather rock, of Saba, which is the first of the Antilles under the lee of which the steamer passes. Santa Cruz, which is left to leeward, is a long, low, ragged island, of the same form as St. Thomas’s and the Virgins, and belonging, I should suppose, to the same formation. But Saba rises sheer out of the sea some 1500 feet or more, without flat ground, or even harbour. From a little landing-place to leeward a stair runs up 800 feet into the bosom of the old volcano; and in that hollow live some 1200 honest Dutch, and some 800 Negroes, who were, till of late years, their slaves, at least in law. But in Saba, it is said, the whites were really the slaves, and the Negroes the masters. For they went off whither and when they liked; earned money about the islands, and brought it home; expected their masters to keep them when out of work: and not in vain. The island was, happily for it, too poor for sugar-growing and the ‘Grande Culture’; the Dutch were never tempted to increase the number of their slaves; looked upon the few they had as friends and children; and when emancipation came, no change whatsoever ensued, it is said, in the semi-feudal relation between the black men and the white. So these good Dutch live peacefully aloft in their volcano, which it is to be hoped will not explode again. They grow garden crops; among which, I understand, are several products of the temperate zone, the air being, at that height pleasantly cool. They sell their produce about the islands. They build boats up in the crater–the best boats in all the West Indies–and lower them down the cliff to the sea. They hire themselves out too, not having lost their forefathers’ sea-going instincts, as sailors about all those seas, and are, like their boats, the best in those parts. They all speak English; and though they are nominally Lutherans, are glad of the services of the excellent Bishop of Antigua, who pays them periodical visits. He described them as virtuous, shrewd, simple, healthy folk, retaining, in spite of the tropic sun, the same clear white and red complexions which their ancestors brought from Holland two hundred years ago–a proof, among many, that the white man need not degenerate in these isles.

Saba has, like most of these islands, its ‘Somma’ like that of Vesuvius; an outer ring of lava, the product of older eruptions, surrounding a central cone, the product of some newer one. But even this latter, as far as I could judge by the glass, is very ancient. Little more than the core of the central cone is left. The rest has been long since destroyed by rains and winds. A white cliff at the south end of the island should be examined by geologists. It belongs probably to that formation of tertiary calcareous marl so often seen in the West Indies, especially at Barbadoes: but if so, it must, to judge from the scar which it makes seaward, have been upheaved long ago, and like the whole island–and indeed all the islands–betokens an immense antiquity.

Much more recent–in appearance at least–is the little isle of St. Eustatius, or at least the crater-cone, with its lip broken down at one spot, which makes up five-sixths of the island. St. Eustatius may have been in eruption, though there is no record of it, during historic times, and looks more unrepentant and capable of misbehaving itself again than does any other crater-cone in the Antilles; far more so than the Souffriere in St. Vincent which exploded in 1812.

But these two are mere rocks. It is not till the traveller arrives at St. Kitts that he sees what a West Indian island is.

The ‘Mother of the Antilles,’ as she is called, is worthy of her name. Everywhere from the shore the land sweeps up, slowly at first, then rapidly, toward the central mass, the rugged peak whereof goes by the name of Mount Misery. Only once, and then but for a moment, did we succeed in getting a sight of the actual summit, so pertinaciously did the clouds crawl round it. 3700 feet aloft a pyramid of black lava rises above the broken walls of an older crater, and is, to judge from its knife-edge, flat top, and concave eastern side, the last remnant of an inner cone which has been washed, or more probably blasted, away. Beneath it, according to the report of an islander to Dr. Davy (and what I heard was to the same effect), is a deep hollow, longer than it is wide, without an outlet, walled in by precipices and steep declivities, from fissures in which steam and the fumes of sulphur are emitted. Sulphur in crystals abounds, encrusting the rocks and loose stones; and a stagnant pool of rain-water occupies the bottom of the Souffriere. A dangerous neighbour–but as long as he keeps his temper, as he has done for three hundred years at least, a most beneficent one–is this great hill, which took, in Columbus’s imagination, the form of the giant St. Christopher bearing on his shoulder the infant Christ, and so gave a name to the whole island.

From the lava and ash ejected from this focus, the whole soils of the island have been formed; soils of still unexhausted fertility, save when–as must needs be in a volcanic region–patches of mere rapilli and scoriae occur. The mountain has hurled these out; and everywhere, as a glance of the eye shows, the tropic rains are carrying them yearly down to the lowland, exposing fresh surfaces to the action of the air, and, by continual denudation and degradation, remanuring the soil. Everywhere, too, are gullies sawn in the slopes, which terminate above in deep and narrow glens, giving, especially when alternated with long lava-streams, a ridge-and- furrow look to this and most other of the Antilles. Dr. Davy, with his usual acuteness of eye and soundness of judgment, attributes them rather to ‘water acting on loose volcanic ashes’ than to ‘rents and fissures, the result of sudden and violent force.’ Doubtless he is in the right. Thus, and thus only, has been formed the greater part of the most beautiful scenery in the West Indies; and I longed again and again, as I looked at it, for the company of my friend and teacher, Colonel George Greenwood, that I might show him, on island after island, such manifold corroborations of his theories in Rain and Rivers.

But our eyes were drawn off, at almost the second glance, from mountain-peaks and glens to the slopes of cultivated lowland, sheeted with bright green cane, and guinea-grass, and pigeon pea; and that not for their own sakes, but for the sake of objects so utterly unlike anything which we had ever seen, that it was not easy, at first, to discover what they were. Gray pillars, which seemed taller than the tallest poplars, smooth and cylindrical as those of a Doric temple, each carrying a flat head of darkest green, were ranged along roadsides and round fields, or stood, in groups or singly, near engine-works, or towered above rich shrubberies which shrouded comfortable country-houses. It was not easy, as I have said, to believe that these strange and noble things were trees: but such they were. At last we beheld, with wonder and delight, the pride of the West Indies, the Cabbage Palms–Palmistes of the French settlers–which botanists have well named Oreodoxa, the ‘glory of the mountains.’ We saw them afterwards a hundred times in their own native forests; and when they rose through tangled masses of richest vegetation, mixed with other and smaller species of palms, their form, fantastic though it was, harmonised well with hundreds of forms equally fantastic. But here they seemed, at first sight, out of place, incongruous, and artificial, standing amid no kindred forms, and towering over a cultivation and civilisation which might have been mistaken, seen from the sea, for wealthy farms along some English shore. Gladly would we have gone on shore, were it but to have stood awhile under those Palmistes; and an invitation was not wanting to a pretty tree-shrouded house on a low cliff a mile off, where doubtless every courtesy and many a luxury would have awaited us. But it could not be. We watched kind folk rowed to shore without us; and then turned to watch the black flotilla under our quarter.

The first thing that caught our eye on board the negro boats which were alongside was, of course, the baskets of fruits and vegetables, of which one of us at least had been hearing all his life. At St. Thomas’s we had been introduced to bananas (figs, as they are miscalled in the West Indies); to the great green oranges, thick- skinned and fragrant; to those junks of sugar-cane, some two feet long, which Cuffy and Cuffy’s ladies delight to gnaw, walking, sitting, and standing; increasing thereby the size of their lips, and breaking out, often enough, their upper front teeth. We had seen, and eaten too, the sweet sop {25a}–a passable fruit, or rather congeries of fruits, looking like a green and purple strawberry, of the bigness of an orange. It is the cousin of the prickly sour-sop; {25b} of the really delicious, but to me unknown, Chirimoya; {25c} and of the custard apple, {25d} containing a pulp which (as those who remember the delectable pages of Tom Cringle know) bears a startling likeness to brains. Bunches of grapes, at St. Kitts, lay among these: and at St. Lucia we saw with them, for the first time, Avocado, or Alligator pears, alias midshipman’s butter; {26a} large round brown fruits, to be eaten with pepper and salt by those who list. With these, in open baskets, lay bright scarlet capsicums, green coconuts tinged with orange, great roots of yam {26b} and cush-cush, {26c} with strange pulse of various kinds and hues. The contents of these vegetable baskets were often as gay-coloured as the gaudy gowns, and still gaudier turbans, of the women who offered them for sale.

Screaming and jabbering, the Negroes and Negresses thrust each other’s boats about, scramble from one to the other with gestures of wrath and defiance, and seemed at every moment about to fall to fisticuffs and to upset themselves among the sharks. But they did neither. Their excitement evaporated in noise. To their ‘ladies,’ to do them justice, the men were always civil, while the said ‘ladies’ bullied them and ordered them about without mercy. The negro women are, without doubt, on a more thorough footing of equality with the men than the women of any white race. The causes, I believe, are two. In the first place there is less difference between the sexes in mere physical strength and courage; and watching the average Negresses, one can well believe the stories of those terrible Amazonian guards of the King of Dahomey, whose boast is, that they are no longer women, but men. There is no doubt that, in case of a rebellion, the black women of the West Indies would be as formidable, cutlass in hand, as the men. The other cause is the exceeding ease with which, not merely food, but gay clothes and ornaments, can be procured by light labour. The negro woman has no need to marry and make herself the slave of a man, in order to get a home and subsistence. Independent she is, for good and evil; and independent she takes care to remain; and no schemes for civilising the Negro will have any deep or permanent good effect which do not take note of, and legislate for, this singular fact.

Meanwhile, it was a comfort to one fresh from the cities of the Old World, and the short and stunted figures, the mesquin and scrofulous visages, which crowd our alleys and back wynds, to see everywhere health, strength, and goodly stature, especially among women. Nowhere in the West Indies are to be seen those haggard down-trodden mothers, grown old before their time, too common in England, and commoner still in France. Health, ‘rude’ in every sense of the word, is the mark of the negro woman, and of the negro man likewise. Their faces shine with fatness; they seem to enjoy, they do enjoy, the mere act of living, like the lizard on the wall. It may be said–it must be said–that, if they be human beings (as they are), they are meant for something more than mere enjoyment of life. Well and good: but are they not meant for enjoyment likewise? Let us take the beam out of our own eye, before we take the mote out of theirs; let us, before we complain of them for being too healthy and comfortable, remember that we have at home here tens of thousands of paupers, rogues, whatnot, who are not a whit more civilised, intellectual, virtuous, or spiritual than the Negro, and are meanwhile neither healthy nor comfortable. The Negro may have the corpus sanum without the mens sana. But what of those whose souls and bodies are alike unsound?

Away south, along the low spit at the south end of the island, where are salt-pans which, I suspect, lie in now extinguished craters; and past little Nevis, the conical ruin, as it were, of a volcanic island. It was probably joined to the low end of St. Kitts not many years ago. It is separated from it now only by a channel called the Narrows, some four to six miles across, and very shallow, there being not more than four fathoms in many places, and infested with reefs, whether of true coral or of volcanic rock I should be glad to know. A single peak, with its Souffriere, rises to some 2000 feet; right and left of it are two lower hills, fragments, apparently, of a Somma, or older and larger crater. The lava and ash slide in concave slopes of fertile soil down to the sea, forming an island some four miles by three, which was in the seventeenth century a little paradise, containing 4000 white citizens, who had dwindled down in 1805, under the baneful influences of slavery, to 1300; in 1832 (the period of emancipation) to 500; and in 1854 to only 170. {27a} A happy place, however, it is said still to be, with a population of more than 10,000, who, as there is happily no Crown land in the island, cannot squat, and so return to their original savagery; but are well-ordered and peaceable, industrious, and well- taught, and need, it is said, not only no soldiers, but no police.

One spot on the little island we should have liked much to have seen: the house where Nelson, after his marriage with Mrs. Nisbet, a lady of Nevis, dwelt awhile in peace and purity. Happier for him, perhaps, though not for England, had he never left that quiet nest.

And now, on the leeward bow, another gray mountain island rose; and on the windward another, lower and longer. The former was Montserrat, which I should have gladly visited, as I had been invited to do. For little Montserrat is just now the scene of a very hopeful and important experiment. {27b} The Messrs. Sturge have established there a large plantation of limes, and a manufactory of lime-juice, which promises to be able to supply, in good time, vast quantities of that most useful of all sea-medicines.

Their connection with the Society of Friends, and indeed the very name of Sturge, is a guarantee that such a work will be carried on for the benefit, not merely of the capitalists, but of the coloured people who are employed. Already, I am assured, a marked improvement has taken place among them; and I, for one, heartily bid God-speed to the enterprise: to any enterprise, indeed, which tends to divert labour and capital from that exclusive sugar-growing which has been most injurious, I verily believe the bane, of the West Indies. On that subject I may have to say more in a future chapter. I ask the reader, meanwhile, to follow, as the ship’s head goes round to windward toward Antigua.

Antigua is lower, longer, and flatter than the other islands. It carries no central peak: but its wildness of ragged uplands forms, it is said, a natural fortress, which ought to be impregnable; and its loyal and industrious people boast that, were every other West Indian island lost, the English might make a stand in Antigua long enough to enable them to reconquer the whole. I should have feared, from the look of the island, that no large force could hold out long in a country so destitute of water as those volcanic hills, rusty, ragged, treeless, almost sad and desolate–if any land could be sad and desolate with such a blue sea leaping around and such a blue sky blazing above. Those who wish to know the agricultural capabilities of Antigua, and to know, too, the good sense and courage, the justice and humanity, which have enabled the Antiguans to struggle on and upward through all their difficulties, in spite of drought, hurricane, and earthquake, till permanent prosperity seems now become certain, should read Dr. Davy’s excellent book, which I cannot too often recommend. For us, we could only give a hasty look at its southern volcanic cliffs; while we regretted that we could not inspect the marine strata of the eastern parts of the island, with their calcareous marls and limestones, hardened clays and cherts, and famous silicified trees, which offer important problems to the geologist, as yet not worked out. {28}

We could well believe, as the steamer ran into English Harbour, that Antigua was still subject to earthquakes; and had been shaken, with great loss of property though not of life, in the Guadaloupe earthquake of 1843, when 5000 lives were lost in the town of Point- a-Pitre alone. The only well-marked effect which Dr. Davy could hear of, apart from damage to artificial structures, was the partial sinking of a causeway leading to Rat Island, in the harbour of St. John. No wonder: if St. John’s harbour be–as from its shape on the map it probably is–simply an extinct crater, or group of craters, like English Harbour. A more picturesque or more uncanny little hole than that latter we had never yet seen: but there are many such harbours about these islands, which nature, for the time being at least, has handed over from the dominion of fire to that of water. Past low cliffs of ash and volcanic boulder, sloping westward to the sea, which is eating them fast away, the steamer runs in through a deep crack, a pistol-shot in width. On the east side a strange section of gray lava and ash is gnawn into caves. On the right, a bluff rock of black lava dips sheer into water several fathoms deep; and you anchor at once inside an irregular group of craters, having passed through a gap in one of their sides, which has probably been torn out by a lava flow. Whether the land, at the time of the flow, was higher or lower than at present, who can tell? This is certain, that the first basin is for half of its circumference circular, and walled with ash beds, which seem to slope outward from it. To the left it leads away into a long creek, up which, somewhat to our surprise, we saw neat government-houses and quays; and between them and us, a noble ironclad and other ships of war at anchor close against lava and ash cliffs. But right ahead, the dusty sides of the crater are covered with strange bushes, its glaring shingle spotted with bright green Manchineels; while on the cliffs around, aloes innumerable, seemingly the imported American Agave, send up their groups of huge fat pointed leaves from crannies so arid that one would fancy a moss would wither in them. A strange place it is, and strangely hot likewise; and one could not but fear a day–it is to be hoped long distant– when it will be hotter still.

Out of English Harbour, after taking on board fruit and bargaining for beads, for which Antigua is famous, we passed the lonely rock of Redonda, toward a mighty mountain which lay under a sheet of clouds of corresponding vastness. That was Guadaloupe. The dark undersides of the rolling clouds mingled with the dark peaks and ridges, till we could not see where earth ended and vapour began; and the clouds from far to the eastward up the wind massed themselves on the island, and then ceased suddenly to leeward, leaving the sky clear and the sea brilliant.

I should be glad to know the cause of this phenomenon, which we saw several times among the islands, but never in greater perfection than on nearing Nevis from the south on our return. In that case, however, the cloud continued to leeward. It came up from the east for full ten miles, an advancing column of tall ghostly cumuli, leaden, above a leaden sea; and slid toward the island, whose lines seemed to leap up once to meet them; fail; then, in a second leap, to plunge the crater-peak high into the mist; and then to sink down again into the western sea, so gently that the line of shore and sea was indistinguishable. But above, the cloud-procession passed on, shattered by its contact with the mountain, and transfigured as it neared the setting sun into long upward streaming lines of rack, purple and primrose against a saffron sky, while Venus lingered low between cloud and sea, a spark of fire glittering through dull red haze.

And now the steamer ran due south, across the vast basin which is ringed round by Antigua, Montserrat, and Guadaloupe, with St. Kitts and Nevis showing like tall gray ghosts to the north-west. Higher and higher ahead rose the great mountain mass of Guadaloupe, its head in its own canopy of cloud. The island falls into the sea sharply to leeward. But it stretches out to windward in a long line of flat land edged with low cliff, and studded with large farms and engine-houses. It might be a bit of the Isle of Thanet, or of the Lothians, were it not for those umbrella-like Palmistes, a hundred feet high, which stand out everywhere against the sky. At its northern end, a furious surf was beating on a sandy beach; and beyond that, dim and distant, loomed up the low flat farther island, known by the name of Grande Terre.

Guadaloupe, as some of my readers may know, consists, properly speaking, of two islands, divided by a swamp and a narrow salt-water river. The eastward half, or Grande Terre, which is composed of marine strata, is hardly seen in the island voyage, and then only at a distance, first behind the westward Basse Terre, and then behind other little islands, the Saintes and Mariegalante. But the westward island, rising in one lofty volcanic mass which hides the eastern island from view, is perhaps, for mere grandeur, the grandest in the Archipelago. The mountains–among which are, it is said, fourteen extinct craters–range upward higher and higher toward the southern end, with corries and glens, which must be, when seen near, hanging gardens of stupendous size. The forests seem to be as magnificent as they were in the days of Pere Labat. Tiny knots on distant cliff-tops, when looked at through the glass, are found to be single trees of enormous height and breadth. Gullies hundreds of feet in depth, rushing downwards toward the sea, represent the rush of the torrents which have helped, through thousands of rainy seasons, to scoop them out and down.

But all this grandeur and richness culminates, toward the southern end, in one great crater-peak 5000 feet in height, at the foot of which lies the Port of Basse Terre, or Bourg St. Francois.

We never were so fortunate as to see the Souffriere entirely free from cloud. The lower, wider, and more ancient crater was generally clear: but out of the midst of it rose a second cone buried in darkness and mist. Once only we caught sight of part of its lip, and the sight was one not to be forgotten.

The sun was rising behind the hills. The purple mountain was backed by clear blue sky. High above it hung sheets of orange cloud lighted from underneath; lower down, and close upon the hill-tops, curved sheets of bright white mist

‘Stooped from heaven, and took the shape, With fold on fold, of mountain and of cape.’

And under them, again, the crater seethed with gray mist, among which, at one moment, we could discern portions of its lip; not smooth, like that of Vesuvius, but broken into awful peaks and chasms hundreds of feet in height. As the sun rose, level lights of golden green streamed round the peak right and left over the downs: but only for a while. As the sky-clouds vanished in his blazing rays, earth-clouds rolled up below from the valleys behind; wreathed and weltered about the great black teeth of the crater; and then sinking among them, and below them, shrouded the whole cone in purple darkness for the day; while in the foreground blazed in the sunshine broad slopes of cane-field: below them again the town, with handsome houses and old-fashioned churches and convents, dating possibly from the seventeenth century, embowered in mangoes, tamarinds, and palmistes; and along the beach a market beneath a row of trees, with canoes drawn up to be unladen, and gay dresses of every hue. The surf whispered softly on the beach. The cheerful murmur of voices came off the shore, and above it the tinkling of some little bell, calling good folks to early mass. A cheery, brilliant picture as man could wish to see: but marred by two ugly elements. A mile away on the low northern cliff, marked with many a cross, was the lonely cholera cemetery, a remembrance of the fearful pestilence which a few years since swept away thousands of the people: and above frowned that black giant, now asleep; but for how long?

In 1797 an eruption hurled out pumice, ashes, and sulphureous vapours. In the great crisis of 1812, indeed, the volcano was quiet, leaving the Souffriere of St. Vincent to do the work; but since then he has shown an ugly and uncertain humour. Smoke by day, and flame by night–or probably that light reflected from below which is often mistaken for flame in volcanic eruptions–have been seen again and again above the crater; and the awful earthquake of 1843 proves that his capacity for mischief is unabated. The whole island, indeed, is somewhat unsafe; for the hapless town of Point-a- Pitre, destroyed by that earthquake, stands not on the volcanic Basse Terre, but on the edge of the marine Grande Terre, near the southern mouth of the salt-water river. Heaven grant these good people of Guadaloupe a long respite; for they are said to deserve it, as far as human industry and enterprise goes. They have, as well, I understand, as the gentlemen of Martinique, discovered the worth of the ‘division of labour.’ Throughout the West Indies the planter is usually not merely a sugar-grower, but a sugar-maker also. He requires, therefore, two capitals, and two intellects likewise, one for his cane-fields, the other for his ‘ingenio,’ engine-house, or sugar-works. But he does not gain thereby two profits. Having two things to do, neither, usually, is done well. The cane-farming is bad, the sugar-making bad; and the sugar, when made, disposed of through merchants by a cumbrous, antiquated, and expensive system. These shrewd Frenchmen, and, I am told, even small proprietors among the Negroes, not being crippled, happily for them, by those absurd sugar-duties which, till Mr. Lowe’s budget, put a premium on the making of bad sugar, are confining themselves to growing the canes, and sell them raw to ‘Usines Centrales,’ at which they are manufactured into sugar. They thus devote their own capital and intellect to increasing the yield of their estates; while the central factories, it is said, pay dividends ranging from twenty to forty per cent. I regretted much that I was unable to visit in crop-time one of these factories, and see the working of a system which seems to contain one of the best elements of the co- operative principle.

But (and this is at present a serious inconvenience to a traveller in the Antilles) the steamer passes each island only once a fortnight; so that to land in an island is equivalent to staying there at least that time, unless one chooses to take the chances of a coasting schooner, and bad food, bugs, cockroaches, and a bunk which–but I will not describe. ‘Non ragionam di lor, ma guarda’ (down the companion) ‘e passa.’

I must therefore content myself with describing, as honestly as I can, what little we saw from the sea, of islands at each of which we would gladly have stayed several days.

As the traveller nears each of them–Guadaloupe, Dominica, Martinique (of which two last we had only one passing glance), St. Vincent, St. Lucia, and Grenada–he will be impressed, not only by the peculiarity of their form, but by the richness of their colour.

All of them do not, like St. Kitts, Guadaloupe, and St. Vincent, slope up to one central peak. In Martinique, for instance, there are three separate peaks, or groups of peaks–the Mont Pelee, the Pitons du Carbet, and the Piton du Vauclain. But all have that peculiar jagged outline which is noticed first at the Virgin Islands.

Flat ‘vans’ or hog-backed hills, and broad sweeps of moorland, so common in Scotland, are as rare as are steep walls of cliff, so common in the Alps. Pyramid is piled on pyramid, the sides of each at a slope of about 45 degrees, till the whole range is a congeries of multitudinous peaks and peaklets, round the base of which spreads out, with a sudden sweep, the smooth lowland of volcanic ash and lava. This extreme raggedness of outline is easily explained. The mountains have never been, as in Scotland, planed smooth by ice. They have been gouged out, in every direction, by the furious tropic rains and tropic rain-torrents. Had the rocks been stratified and tolerably horizontal, these rains would have cut them out into tablelands divided by deep gullies, such as may be seen in Abyssinia, and in certain parts of the western United States. But these rocks are altogether amorphous and unstratified, and have been poured or spouted out as lumps, dykes, and sheets of lava, of every degree of hardness; so that the rain, in degrading them, has worn them, not into tables and ranges, but into innumerable cones. And the process of degradation is still going on rapidly. Though a cliff, or sheet of bare rock, is hardly visible among the glens, yet here and there a bright brown patch tells of a recent landslip; and the masses of debris and banks of shingle, backed by a pestilential little swamp at the mouth of each torrent, show how furious must be the downpour and down-roll before the force of a sudden flood, along so headlong an incline.

But in strange contrast with the ragged outline, and with the wild devastation of the rainy season, is the richness of the verdure which clothes the islands, up to their highest peaks, in what seems a coat of green fur; but when looked at through the glasses, proves to be, in most cases, gigantic timber. Not a rock is seen. If there be a cliff here and there, it is as green as an English lawn. Steep slopes are gray with groo-groo palms, {33} or yellow with unknown flowering trees. High against the sky-line, tiny knots and lumps are found to be gigantic trees. Each glen has buried its streamlet a hundred feet in vegetation, above which, here and there, the gray stem and dark crown of some palmiste towers up like the mast of some great admiral. The eye and the fancy strain vainly into the green abysses, and wander up and down over the wealth of depths and heights, compared with which European parks and woodlands are but paltry scrub and shaugh. No books are needed to tell that. The eye discovers it for itself, even before it has learnt to judge of the great size of the vegetation, from the endless variety of form and colour. For the islands, though green intensely, are not of one, but of every conceivable green, or rather of hues ranging from pale yellow through all greens into cobalt blue; and as the wind stirs the leaves, and sweeps the lights and shadows over hill and glen, all is ever-changing, iridescent, like a peacock’s neck; till the whole island, from peak to shore, seems some glorious jewel–an emerald with tints of sapphire and topaz, hanging between blue sea and white surf below, and blue sky and white cloud above.

If the reader fancies that I exaggerate, let him go and see. Let him lie for one hour off the Rosseau at Dominica. Let him sail down the leeward side of Guadaloupe, down the leeward side of what island he will, and judge for himself how poor, and yet how tawdry, my words are, compared with the luscious yet magnificent colouring of the Antilles.

The traveller, at least so I think, would remark also, with some surprise, the seeming smallness of these islands. The Basse Terre of Guadaloupe, for instance, is forty miles in length. As you lie off it, it does not look half, or even a quarter, of that length; and that, not merely because the distances north and south are foreshortened, or shut in by nearer headlands. The causes, I believe, are more subtle and more complex. First, the novel clearness of the air, which makes the traveller, fresh from misty England, fancy every object far nearer, and therefore far smaller, than it actually is. Next the simplicity of form. Each outer line trends upward so surely toward a single focus; each whole is so sharply defined between its base-line of sea and its background of sky, that, like a statue, each island is compact and complete in itself, an isolated and self-dependent organism; and therefore, like every beautiful statue, it looks much smaller than it is. So perfect this isolation seems, that one fancies, at moments, that the island does not rise out of the sea, but floats upon it; that it is held in place, not by the roots of the mountains, and deep miles of lava-wall below, but by the cloud which has caught it by the top, and will not let it go. Let that cloud but rise, and vanish, and the whole beautiful thing will be cast adrift; ready to fetch way before the wind, and (as it will seem often enough to do when viewed through a cabin-port) to slide silently past you, while you are sliding past it.

And yet, to him who knows the past, a dark shadow hangs over all this beauty; and the air–even in clearest blaze of sunshine–is full of ghosts. I do not speak of the shadow of negro slavery, nor of the shadow which, though abolished, it has left behind, not to be cleared off for generations to come. I speak of the shadow of war, and the ghosts of gallant soldiers and sailors. Truly here

‘The spirits of our fathers
Might start from every wave;
For the deck it was their field of fame, And ocean was their grave,’

and ask us: What have you done with these islands, which we won for you with precious blood? What could we answer? We have misused them, neglected them; till now, ashamed of the slavery of the past, and too ignorant and helpless to govern them now slavery is gone, we are half-minded to throw them away again, or to allow them to annex themselves, in sheer weariness at our imbecility, to the Americans, who, far too wise to throw them away in their turn, will accept them gladly as an instalment of that great development of their empire, when ‘The stars and stripes shall float upon Cape Horn.’

But was it for this that these islands were taken and retaken, till every gully held the skeleton of an Englishman? Was it for this that these seas were reddened with blood year after year, till the sharks learnt to gather to a sea-fight, as eagle, kite, and wolf gathered of old to fights on land? Did all those gallant souls go down to Hades in vain, and leave nothing for the Englishman but the sad and proud memory of their useless valour? That at least they have left.

However we may deplore those old wars as unnecessary; however much we may hate war in itself, as perhaps the worst of all the superfluous curses with which man continues to deface himself and this fair earth of God, yet one must be less than Englishman, less, it may be, than man, if one does not feel a thrill of pride at entering waters where one says to oneself,–Here Rodney, on the glorious 12th of April 1782, broke Count de Grasse’s line (teaching thereby Nelson to do the same in like case), took and destroyed seven French ships of the line and scattered the rest, preventing the French fleet from joining the Spaniards at Hispaniola; thus saving Jamaica and the whole West Indies, and brought about by that single tremendous blow the honourable peace of 1783. On what a scene of crippled and sinking, shattered and triumphant ships, in what a sea, must the conquerors have looked round from the Formidable’s poop, with De Grasse at luncheon with Rodney in the cabin below, and not, as he had boastfully promised, on board his own Fills de Paris. Truly, though cynically, wrote Sir Gilbert Blane, ‘If superior beings make a sport of the quarrels of mortals, they could not have chosen a better theatre for this magnificent exhibition, nor could they ever have better entertainment than this day afforded.’

Yon lovely roadstead of Dominica–there it was that Rodney first caught up the French on the 9th of April, three days before, and would have beaten them there and then, had not a great part of his fleet lain becalmed under these very highlands, past which we are steaming through water smooth as glass. You glance, again, running down the coast of Martinique, into a deep bay, ringed round with gay houses embowered in mango and coconut, with the Piton du Vauclain rising into the clouds behind it. That is the Cul-de-sac Royal, for years the rendezvous and stronghold of the French fleets. From it Count de Grasse sailed out on the fatal 8th of April; and there, beyond it, opens an isolated rock, of the shape, but double the size, of one of the great Pyramids, which was once the British sloop of war Diamond Rock.

For, in the end of 1803, Sir Samuel Hood saw that French ships passing to Fort Royal harbour in Martinique escaped him by running through the deep channel between Pointe du Diamante and this same rock, which rises sheer out of the water 600 feet, and is about a mile round, and only accessible at a point to the leeward, and even then only when there is no surf. He who lands, it is said, has then to creep through crannies and dangerous steeps, round to the windward side, where the eye is suddenly relieved by a sloping grove of wild fig-trees, clinging by innumerable air-roots to the cracks of the stone.

So Hood, with that inspiration of genius so common then among sailors, laid his seventy-four, the Centaur, close alongside the Diamond; made a hawser, with a traveller on it, fast to the ship and to the top of the rock; and in January 1804 got three long 24’s and two 18’s hauled up far above his masthead by sailors who, as they ‘hung like clusters,’ appeared ‘like mice hauling a little sausage. Scarcely could we hear the Governor on the top directing them with his trumpet; the Centaur lying close under, like a cocoa-nut shell, to which the hawsers are affixed.’ {36} In this strange fortress Lieutenant James Wilkie Maurice (let his name be recollected as one of England’s forgotten worthies) was established, with 120 men and boys, and ammunition, provisions, and water, for four months; and the rock was borne on the books of the Admiralty as His Majesty’s ship Diamond Rock, and swept the seas with her guns till the 1st of June 1805, when she had to surrender, for want of powder, to a French squadron of two 74’s, a frigate, a corvette, a schooner, and eleven gunboats, after killing and wounding some seventy men on the rock alone, and destroying three gunboats, with a loss to herself of two men killed and one wounded. Remembering which story, who will blame the traveller if he takes off his hat to His Majesty’s quondam corvette, as he sees for the first time its pink and yellow sides shining in the sun, above the sparkling seas over which it domineered of old? You run onwards toward St. Lucia. Across that channel Rodney’s line of frigates watched for the expected reinforcement of the French fleet. The first bay in St. Lucia is Gros islet; and there is the Gros islet itself–Pigeon Rock, as the English call it–behind which Rodney’s fleet lay waiting at anchor, while he himself sat on the top of the rock, day after day, spy- glass in hand, watching for the signals from his frigates that the French fleet was on the move.

And those glens and forests of St. Lucia–over them and through them Sir John Moore and Sir Ralph Abercrombie fought, week after week, month after month, not merely against French soldiers, but against worse enemies; ‘Brigands,’ as the poor fellows were called; Negroes liberated by the Revolution of 1792. With their heads full (and who can blame them?) of the Rights of Man, and the democratic teachings of that valiant and able friend of Robespierre, Victor Hugues, they had destroyed their masters, man, woman, and child, horribly enough, and then helped to drive out of the island the invading English, who were already half destroyed, not with fighting, but with fever. And now ‘St. Lucia the faithful,’ as the Convention had named her, was swarming with fresh English; and the remaining French and the drilled Negroes made a desperate stand in the earthworks of yonder Morne Fortunee, above the harbour, and had to surrender, with 100 guns and all their stores; and then the poor black fellows, who only knew that they were free, and intended to remain free, took to the bush, and fed on the wild cush-cush roots and the plunder of the plantations, man-hunting, murdering French and English alike, and being put to death in return whenever caught. Gentle Abercrombie could not coax them into peace: stern Moore could not shoot and hang them into it; and the ‘Brigand war’ dragged hideously on, till Moore–who was nearly caught by them in a six-oared boat off the Pitons, and had to row for his life to St. Vincent, so saving himself for the glory of Corunna–was all but dead of fever; and Colonel James Drummond had to carry on the miserable work, till the whole ‘Armee Francaise dans les bois’ laid down their rusty muskets, on the one condition, that free they had been, and free they should remain. So they were formed into an English regiment, and sent to fight on the coast of Africa; and in more senses than one ‘went to their own place.’ Then St. Lucia was ours till the peace of 1802; then French again, under the good and wise Nogues; to be retaken by us in 1803 once and for all.

I tell this little story at some length, as an instance of what these islands have cost us in blood and treasure. I have heard it regretted that we restored Martinique to the French, and kept St. Lucia instead. But in so doing, the British Government acted at least on the advice which Rodney had given as early as the year 1778. St. Lucia, he held, would render Martinique and the other islands of little use in war, owing to its windward situation and its good harbours; for from St. Lucia every other British island might receive speedy succour. He advised that the Little Carenage should be made a permanent naval station, with dockyard and fortifications, and a town built there by Government, which would, in his opinion, have become a metropolis for the other islands. And indeed, Nature had done her part to make such a project easy of accomplishment. But Rodney’s advice was not taken–any more than his advice to people the island, by having a considerable quantity of land in each parish allotted to ten-acre men (i.e. white yeomen), under penalty of forfeiting it to the Crown should it be ever converted to any other use than provision ground (i.e. thrown into sugar estates). This advice shows that Rodney’s genius, though, with the prejudices of his time, he supported not only slavery, but the slave-trade itself, had perceived one of the most fatal weaknesses of the slave-holding and sugar-growing system. And well it would have been for St. Lucia if his advice had been taken. But neither ten-acre men nor dockyards were ever established in St. Lucia. The mail-steamers, if they need to go into dock, have, I am ashamed to say, to go to Martinique, where the French manage matters better. The admirable Carenage harbour is empty; Castries remains a little town, small, dirty, dilapidated, and unwholesome; and St. Lucia itself is hardly to be called a colony, but rather the nucleus of a colony, which may become hereafter, by energy and good government, a rich and thickly-peopled garden up to the very mountain-tops.

We went up 800 feet of steep hill, to pay a visit on that Morne Fortunee which Moore and Abercrombie took, with terrible loss of life, in May 1796; and wondered at the courage and the tenacity of purpose which could have contrived to invest, and much more to assault, such a stronghold, ‘dragging the guns across ravines and up the acclivities of the mountains and rocks,’ and then attacking the works only along one narrow neck of down, which must be fat, to this day, with English blood.

All was peaceful enough now. The forts were crumbling, the barracks empty, and the ‘neat cottages, smiling flower gardens, smooth grass- plats and gravel-walks,’ which were once the pride of the citadel, replaced for the most part with Guava-scrub and sensitive plants. But nothing can destroy the beauty of the panorama. To the north and east a wilderness of mountain peaks; to the west the Grand Cul- de-sac and the Carenage, mapped out in sheets of blue between high promontories; and, beyond all, the open sea. What a land: and in what a climate: and all lying well-nigh as it has been since the making of the world, waiting for man to come and take possession. But there, as elsewhere, matters are mending steadily; and in another hundred years St. Lucia may be an honour to the English race.

We were, of course, anxious to obtain at St. Lucia specimens of that abominable reptile, the Fer-de-lance, or rat-tailed snake, {38} which is the pest of this island, as well as of the neighbouring island of Martinique, and, in Pere Labat’s time, of lesser Martinique in the Grenadines, from which, according to Davy, it seems to have disappeared. It occurs also in Guadaloupe. In great Martinique–so the French say–it is dangerous to travel through certain woodlands on account of the Fer-de-lance, who lies along a bough, and strikes, without provocation, at horse or man. I suspect this statement, however, to be an exaggeration. I was assured that this was not the case in St. Lucia; that the snake attacks no oftener than other venomous snakes,–that is, when trodden on, or when his retreat is cut off. At all events, it seems easy enough to kill him: so easy, that I hope yet it may be possible to catch him alive, and that the Zoological Gardens may at last possess–what they have long coveted in vain–hideous attraction of a live Fer-de- lance. The specimens which we brought home are curious enough, even from this aesthetic point of view. Why are these poisonous snakes so repulsive in appearance, some of them at least, and that not in proportion to their dangerous properties? For no one who puts the mere dread out of his mind will call the Cobras ugly, even anything but beautiful; nor, again, the deadly Coral snake of Trinidad, whose beauty tempts children, and even grown people, to play with it, or make a necklace of it, sometimes to their own destruction. But who will call the Puff Adder of the Cape, or this very Fer-de-lance, anything but ugly and horrible: not only from the brutality signified, to us at least, by the flat triangular head and the heavy jaw, but by the look of malevolence and craft signified, to us at least, by the eye and the lip? ‘To us at least,’ I say. For it is an open question, and will be one, as long as the nominalist and the realist schools of thought keep up their controversy–which they will do to the world’s end–whether this seeming hideousness be a real fact: whether we do not attribute to the snake the same passions which we should expect to find–and to abhor–in a human countenance of somewhat the same shape, and then justify our assumption to ourselves by the creature’s bites, which are actually no more the result of craft and malevolence than the bite of a frightened mouse or squirrel. I should be glad to believe that the latter theory were the true one; that nothing is created really ugly, that the Fer-de-lance looks an hideous fiend, the Ocelot a beautiful fiend, merely because the outlines of the Ocelot approach more nearly to those which we consider beautiful in a human being: but I confess myself not yet convinced. ‘There is a great deal of human nature in man,’ said the wise Yankee; and one’s human nature, perhaps one’s common-sense also, will persist in considering beauty and ugliness as absolute realities, in spite of one’s efforts to be fair to the weighty arguments on the other side.

These Fer-de-lances, be that as it may, are a great pest in St. Lucia. Dr. Davy says that he ‘was told by the Lieutenant-Governor that as many as thirty rat-tailed snakes were killed in clearing a piece of land, of no great extent, near Government House.’ I can well believe this, for about the same number were killed only two years ago in clearing, probably, the same piece of ground, which is infested with that creeping pest of the West Indies, the wild Guava- bush, from which guava-jelly is made. The present Lieutenant- Governor has offered a small reward for the head of every Fer-de- lance killed: and the number brought in, in the first month, was so large that I do not like to quote it merely from memory. Certainly, it was high time to make a crusade against these unwelcome denizens. Dr. Davy, judging from a Government report, says that nineteen persons were killed by them in one small parish in the year 1849; and the death, though by no means certain, is, when it befalls, a hideous death enough. If any one wishes to know what it is like, let him read the tragedy which Sir Richard Schomburgk tells–with his usual brilliance and pathos, for he is a poet as well as a man of science–in his Travels in British Guiana, vol. ii. p. 255–how the Craspedocephalus, coiled on a stone in the ford, let fourteen people walk over him without stirring, or allowing himself to be seen: and at last rose, and, missing Schomburgk himself, struck the beautiful Indian bride, the ‘Liebling der ganzen Gesellschaft;’ and how she died in her bridegroom’s arms, with horrors which I do not record.

Strangely enough, this snake, so fatal to man, has no power against another West Indian snake, almost equally common, namely, the Cribo. {40} This brave animal, closely connected with our common water- snake, is perfectly harmless, and a welcome guest in West Indian houses, because he clears them of rats. He is some six or eight feet long, black, with more or less bright yellow about the tail and under the stomach. He not only faces the Fer-de-lance, who is often as big as he, but kills and eats him. It was but last year, I think, that the population of Carenage turned out to see a fight in a tree between a Cribo and a Fer-de-lance, of about equal size, which, after a two hours’ struggle, ended in the Cribo swallowing the Fer-de-lance, head foremost. But when he had got his adversary about one-third down, the Creoles–just as so many Englishmen would have done–seeing that all the sport was over, rewarded the brave Cribo by killing both, and preserving them as a curiosity in spirits. How the Fer-de-lance came into the Antilles is a puzzle. The black American scorpion–whose bite is more dreaded by the Negroes than even the snake’s–may have been easily brought by ship in luggage or in cargo. But the Fer-de-lance, whose nearest home is in Guiana, is not likely to have come on board ship. It is difficult to believe that he travelled northward by land at the epoch–if such a one there ever was–when these islands were joined to South America: for if so, he would surely be found in St. Vincent, in Grenada, and most surely of all in Trinidad. So far from that being the case, he will not live, it is said, in St. Vincent. For (so goes the story) during the Carib war of 1795-96, the savages imported Fer-de-lances from St. Lucia or Martinique, and turned them loose, in hopes of their destroying the white men: but they did not breed, dwindled away, and were soon extinct. It is possible that they, or their eggs, came in floating timber from the Orinoco: but if so, how is it that they have never been stranded on the east coast of Trinidad, whither timber without end drifts from that river? In a word, I have no explanation whatsoever to give; as I am not minded to fall back on the medieval one, that the devil must have brought them thither, to plague the inhabitants for their sins.

Among all these beautiful islands, St. Lucia is, I think, the most beautiful; not indeed on account of the size or form of its central mass, which is surpassed by that of several others, but on account of those two extraordinary mountains at its south-western end, which, while all conical hills in the French islands are called Pitons, bear the name of The Pitons par excellence. From most elevated points in the island their twin peaks may be seen jutting up over the other hills, like, according to irreverent English sailors, the tips of a donkey’s ears. But, as the steamer runs southward along the shore, these two peaks open out, and you find yourself in deep water close to the base of two obelisks, rather than mountains, which rise sheer out of the sea, one to the height of 2710, the other to that of 2680 feet, about a mile from each other. Between them is the loveliest little bay; and behind them green wooded slopes rise toward the rearward mountain of the Souffriere. The whole glitters clear and keen in blazing sunshine: but behind, black depths of cloud and gray sheets of rain shroud all the central highlands in mystery and sadness. Beyond them, without a shore, spreads open sea. But the fantastic grandeur of the place cannot be described in words. The pencil of the artist must be trusted. I can vouch that he has not in the least exaggerated the slenderness and steepness of the rock-masses. One of them, it is said, has never been climbed; unless a myth which hangs about it is true. Certain English sailors, probably of Rodney’s men–and numbering, according to the pleasure of the narrator, three hundred, thirty, or three–are said to have warped themselves up it by lianes and scrub; but they found the rock-ledges garrisoned by an enemy more terrible than any French. Beneath the bites of the Fer-de- lances, and it may be beneath the blaze of the sun, man after man dropped; and lay, or rolled down the cliffs. A single survivor was seen to reach the summit, to wave the Union Jack in triumph over his head, and then to fall a corpse. So runs the tale, which, if not true, has yet its value, as a token of what, in those old days, English sailors were believed capable of daring and of doing.

At the back of these two Pitons is the Souffriere, probably the remains of the old crater, now fallen in, and only 1000 feet above the sea: a golden egg to the islanders, were it but used, in case of war, and any difficulty occurring in obtaining sulphur from Sicily, a supply of the article to almost any amount might be obtained from this and the other like Solfaterras of the British Antilles; they being, so long as the natural distillation of the substance continues active as at present, inexhaustible. But to work them profitably will require a little more common-sense than the good folks of St. Lucia have as yet shown. In 1836 two gentlemen of Antigua, {43a} Mr. Bennett and Mr. Wood, set up sulphur works at the Souffriere of St. Lucia, and began prosperously enough, exporting 540 tons the first year. ‘But in 1840,’ says Mr. Breen, ‘the sugar-growers took the alarm,’ fearing, it is to be presumed, that labour would be diverted from the cane-estates, ‘and at their instigation the Legislative Council imposed a tax of 16s. sterling on every ton of purified sulphur exported from the colony.’ The consequence was that ‘Messrs. Bennett and Wood, after incurring a heavy loss of time and treasure, had to break up their establishment and retire from the colony.’ One has heard of the man who killed the goose to get the golden egg. In this case the goose, to avoid the trouble of laying, seems to have killed the man.

The next link in the chain, as the steamer runs southward, is St. Vincent; a single volcano peak, like St. Kitts, or the Basse Terre of Guadaloupe. Very grand are the vast sheets, probably of lava covered with ash, which pour down from between two rounded mountains just above the town. Rich with green canes, they contrast strongly with the brown ragged cliffs right and left of them, and still more with the awful depths beyond and above, where, underneath a canopy of bright white clouds, scowls a purple darkness of cliffs and glens, among which lies, unseen, the Souffriere.

In vain, both going and coming, by sunlight, and again by moonlight, when the cane-fields gleamed white below and the hills were pitch- black above, did we try to catch a sight of this crater-peak. One fact alone we ascertained, that like all, as far as I have seen, of the West Indian volcanoes, it does not terminate in an ash-cone, but in ragged cliffs of blasted rock. The explosion of April 27, 1812, must have been too violent, and too short, to allow of any accumulation round the crater. And no wonder; for that single explosion relieved an interior pressure upon the crust of the earth, which had agitated sea and land from the Azores to the West Indian islands, the coasts of Venezuela, the Cordillera of New Grenada, and the valleys of the Mississippi and Ohio. For nearly two years the earthquakes had continued, when they culminated in one great tragedy, which should be read at length in the pages of Humboldt. {43b} On March 26, 1812, when the people of Caraccas were assembled in the churches, beneath a still and blazing sky, one minute of earthquake sufficed to bury, amid the ruins of churches and houses, nearly 10,000 souls. The same earthquake wrought terrible destruction along the whole line of the northern Cordilleras, and was felt even at Santa Fe de Bogota, and Honda, 180 leagues from Caraccas. But the end was not yet. While the wretched survivors of Caraccas were dying of fever and starvation, and wandering inland to escape from ever-renewed earthquake shocks, among villages and farms, which, ruined like their own city, could give them no shelter, the almost forgotten volcano of St. Vincent was muttering in suppressed wrath. It had thrown out no lava since 1718; if, at least, the eruption spoken of by Moreau de Jonnes took place in the Souffriere. According to him, with a terrific earthquake, clouds of ashes were driven into the air with violent detonations from a mountain situated at the eastern end of the island. When the eruption had ceased, it was found that the whole mountain had disappeared. Now there is no eastern end to St. Vincent, nor any mountain on the east coast: and the Souffriere is at the northern end. It is impossible, meanwhile, that the wreck of such a mountain should not have left traces visible and notorious to this day. May not the truth be, that the Souffriere had once a lofty cone, which was blasted away in 1718, leaving the present crater-ring of cliffs and peaks; and that thus may be explained the discrepancies in the accounts of its height, which Mr. Scrope gives as 4940 feet, and Humboldt and Dr. Davy at 3000, a measurement which seems to me to be more probably correct? The mountain is said to have been slightly active in 1785. In 1812 its old crater had been for some years (and is now) a deep blue lake, with walls of rock around 800 feet in height, reminding one traveller of the Lake of Albano. {44} But for twelve months it had given warning, by frequent earthquake shocks, that it had its part to play in the great subterranean battle between rock and steam; and on the 27th of April 1812 the battle began.

A negro boy–he is said to be still alive in St. Vincent–was herding cattle on the mountain-side. A stone fell near him; and then another. He fancied that other boys were pelting him from the cliffs above, and began throwing stones in return. But the stones fell thicker: and among them one, and then another, too large to have been thrown by human hand. And the poor little fellow woke up to the fact that not a boy, but the mountain, was throwing stones at him; and that the column of black cloud which was rising from the crater above was not harmless vapour, but dust, and ash, and stone. He turned, and ran for his life, leaving the cattle to their fate, while the steam mitrailleuse of the Titans–to which all man’s engines of destruction are but pop-guns–roared on for three days and nights, covering the greater part of the island in ashes, burying crops, breaking branches off the trees, and spreading ruin from which several estates never recovered; and so the 30th of April dawned in darkness which might be felt.

Meanwhile, on that same day, to change the scene of the campaign two hundred and ten leagues, ‘a distance,’ as Humboldt says, ‘equal to that between Vesuvius and Paris,’ ‘the inhabitants, not only of Caraccas, but of Calabozo, situate in the midst of the Llanos, over a space of four thousand square leagues, were terrified by a subterranean noise, which resembled frequent discharges of the loudest cannon. It was accompanied by no shock: and, what is very remarkable, was as loud on the coast as at eighty leagues’ distance inland; and at Caraccas, as well as at Calabozo, preparations were made to put the place in defence against an enemy who seemed to be advancing with heavy artillery.’ They might as well have copied the St. Vincent herd-boy, and thrown their stones, too, at the Titans; for the noise was, there can be no doubt, nothing else than the final explosion in St. Vincent far away. The same explosion was heard in Venezuela, the same at Martinique and Guadaloupe: but there, too, there were no earthquake shocks. The volcanoes of the two French islands lay quiet, and left their English brother to do the work. On the same day a stream of lava rushed down from the

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